Abu Qatada deportation ban can be lifted, judges told
A block on deporting radical cleric Abu Qatada from the UK should be lifted, lawyers for the home secretary have told the Court of Appeal.
Last year judges ruled he could not be sent to Jordan for a retrial over alleged involvement in terrorism plots.
There was a "real risk" evidence gained by torture would be used, they said.
Government lawyers argue they took the "wrong approach" in reaching their decision and say a "fair" trial was possible. Judgement has been reserved.
Addressing the court, James Eadie QC, for the home secretary, said the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) had taken an "erroneous" view of the situation in Jordan and the legal tests that had to be applied when it came to assessing the conditions Abu Qatada could face there.
He said Jordanian law bans the use of torture and reliance on statements extracted under duress.
Abu Qatada's battle against deportation comes down to a single issue: The legal test for deciding whether Jordan can give him a fair trial.
If the government is going to win, it must show that judges have got it wrong in deciding that the cleric will suffer a "flagrant denial of justice" in Jordan.
The judges don't have to look at the facts of the case but how to approach answering the question.
If there is a "real risk" of unfairness, is it any business of the UK if Jordan says it has procedures for dealing with torture-tainted evidence?
The cleric's legal team says the risk is real because there's no proof that Jordan's courts will act in a way the government hopes.
And so the case is not about Abu Qatada any more - but the standard of justice in Jordan and the lengths the UK should go in assessing it.
Jordanians will do everything in their power to make sure Abu Qatada receives a trial that was "fair and seen to be so", he added.
"There is no reason to suppose that the Jordanian courts would approach these issues in a flagrantly unfair way," Mr Eadie said.
"There is no reason to suppose they would not consider all the evidence before them."
But lawyers for Abu Qatada told the court that the UK should not send someone back to a country with a "dubious human rights record".
Edward Fitzgerald QC said Siac's finding was "entirely reasonable and rational" and came after a series of court decisions said confessions obtained by torture would be admitted in evidence.
He said the government lawyers had "identified no error of law" and were "quarrelling with findings of fact".
On Saturday, Abu Qatada was returned to prison for allegedly breaching his strict bail conditions. He is not in court for the hearing.
The preacher, who is in his early 50s, had been living on bail with his family in London since winning the latest stage of his battle against deportation.
The cleric has never been charged with a crime in the UK but the courts say he poses a serious threat to national security.'Mobiles seized'
Last November, the Siac ruled there was a risk that evidence obtained by torturing witnesses would be used against him at his retrial in Jordan - meaning that he would not get a fair hearing.
That ruling followed an earlier decision by the European Court of Human Rights that said that the only outstanding issue stopping the preacher’s removal from the UK was an assurance from Jordan on that issue.
The government sought fresh assurances from Jordan on the type of trial that the preacher would face - but those were rejected by Siac.
Since November’s ruling, officials have been seeking further assurances that would satisfy the courts. Security minister James Brokenshire held talks in Amman last week as part of the continuing diplomatic efforts.
The Court of Appeal hearing is expected to focus on the narrow issue of what constitutes a “real risk” of the use of torture evidence, given the assurances the UK has sought.
If Home Secretary Theresa May wins the appeal, it would allow her to restart the deportation. But it is highly likely there will be more appeals to the Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights.
On Saturday, Mr Justice Irwin approved the preacher’s re-detention in prison after hearing that there may have been prohibited communications equipment in the family home while he was present.
The bail conditions included a 22-hour home curfew and significant restrictions on where he could go and whom he could meet or communicate with including a ban on him from having mobile telephones switched on.
Mr Eadie told the Court of Appeal hearing that mobile phones and other other telecoms equipment had been seized.