Leading article: Abu Qatada's hard case is making for good law

Theresa May has been wise not to defy the judgment of the European Court

Share
Related Topics

It is desirable, and right, that Abu Qatada, a man once described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, should be expelled from Britain as soon as possible. But the Government has been wise not to appeal against the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights that blocked his deportation to stand trial for terrorism in Jordan.

The grounds the court gave for its ruling in January were that returning Mr Qatada would breach his right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, because evidence obtained by torture might be used against him. It was the first time the Strasbourg court had ruled that someone cannot be removed not because he is at risk of torture, but because others may have been so treated. That was a correct decision. Defendants must be protected from allegations based on unreliable evidence – even when that does not suit British political interests.

Prompted, it appears, by the wording of the court's judgment, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, asked the Jordanian government for guarantees that torture evidence would not be used if Mr Qatada were put on trial. These, it appears, have now been given and even written into the Jordanian constitution. An undertaking has also been given that the trial will be held in a civilian, not a military, court. And two leading witnesses have been released from prison with pardons, which means they cannot be rearrested even if they incriminate themselves in testifying against Mr Qatada. On the face of it these measures sound substantial, though human-rights lawyers will want to scour the details when they are made public –not least to determine whether the facts correspond with Jordan's claim that it has banned torture.

Due process and the rule of law are paramount here – which is why Ms May was right to resist the siren voices from the Tory backbenches which called for her to ignore the European Court and act unilaterally. Governments, of all institutions, as she said, must be seen to obey the law.

That does not mean that the law cannot be improved. Representatives of the Council of Europe's 47 members meet today in Brighton to consider changes to the operations of the European Court of Human Rights. As the court's backlog of 150,000 cases shows, change is needed. But revisions to its principles of subsidiarity – the idea that as many decisions as possible should be left to national courts – and "margin of appreciation" – the scope that domestic courts have for interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights – must proceed with great care. They must not be driven by Eurosceptic hysteria about the court's supposed bias. Its decision last week to approve the extradition of Abu Hamza and four other alleged terrorists to face trial in the United States should give the lie to such silliness.

Yet reforms are needed to deal with the fact that more than a quarter of the backlog is down to petitions to the court from one country, Russia. Applications to the court should not be considered if they are substantially the same as matters previously considered by the court. Better measures are clearly needed for screening out cases at lower levels.

Lawyers for Mr Qatada may well succeed in their application – likely to be heard at an expedited hearing of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission – that their client should be granted bail, under the 22-hour curfew which was maintained until his rearrest yesterday. But the course the Home Secretary set out yesterday represents significant progress, and she is to be commended for going to such lengths as she has to ensure that the Government upholds the law.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
 

I've tried reason, but my cat is pig-ignorant

Dom Joly
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin