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

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ashya King in hospital with his mother  

Ashya King: Breakdown in relations led to this PR fiasco

Paul Peachey
Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development holds a carton of eggs during a speech to Better Together supporters  

When the course of history is on the line, democracy is a raw, vicious and filthy business

Matthew Norman
Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York