Analysis: Could Europe stop Abu Qatada's deportation?


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Could the European Court of Human Rights stop Abu Qatada's deportation? What would be the consequences if he were removed from the UK?

Abu Qatada, the preacher the government wants to deport, is settling into life on bail after being released from jail.

The European Court of Human Rights says he cannot be deported - and ministers are frantically trying to strike a deal with Jordan to reverse that ruling.

But can't they just deport him anyway? The UK's own highest judges have already approved the move - what could Europe do to stop it happening?

The Sun campaign to kick out Abu Qatada Sun campaign: Petition to ignore the European Court

Backbench MPs are lobbying ministers and The Sun has breezily joined the fray with its own KICK OUT QATADA petition.

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, a former home office security minister, told the BBC on Tuesday that she believed London could get a new agreement. But she added that if ministers can't reach a deal with Jordan, they shouldn't rule out deportation anyway.

"I would want to know the circumstances; I would not want to land this country in an even more difficult situation," she said. "I don't suppose that would even be my first move. But I would not rule it out over the long term."

So can the government simply ignore the European Court?

Abu Qatada has the protection of an "interim measure" at the European Court. This says he should not be deported until the court's judgement becomes final.

The January judgement barring deportation won't become final until April - and if either the cleric or the government asks the court's Grand Chamber to intervene, the case could drag on for another year.

Ministers across Europe are trying to ignore European Court rulings. This typically happens when governments believe the Court has over-reached itself - just look at the row over whether prisoners should be allowed to vote.

Abu Qatada leaving prison on Monday Abu Qatada leaving prison on Monday

But there is a recent case where the British government not only ignored the court - but did the complete opposite.

War crime suspects

In late 2008, during the dying hours of the British military mandate in Iraq, the Army was holding two men accused of a war crime.

It wanted to hand them over to the Iraqi authorities - but the Ministry of Defence had not obtained an assurance that the pair would not face the death penalty.

The European Court granted an interim order banning the UK from transferring the men to the Iraqi authorities. As the mandate ticked away, British officials felt they had no choice but to transfer the men to a Baghdad jail, sparking fury back at Strasbourg.

So what happened? European judges couldn't charge British officials with any crime. So the UK got a snotty letter and a €40,000 fine.

The men, by the way, were eventually acquitted. But particular affair was, to put it mildly, an incredibly complex and messy situation. As the cliché goes, hard cases make bad law.

So let's look at what happened to Italy when it deported three terrorism suspects in cases that echo Abu Qatada.

Baroness Neville Jones: There's a long-term risk if no agreement is reached with the Jordanian government

Each man had the protection of the European Court. But Italy ignored that and booted them out. What were the consequences?

European judges didn't call Interpol. There were more angry letters and fines totalling €60,000.

There is a theoretical risk that if the UK ignored the court that it could be kicked out of the Council of Europe, the international human rights club. But ask any international lawyer how likely that is and they'll chortle away to themselves at the stupidity of the question.

So, if the government put Abu Qatada on a plane tonight, the short-term practical effect would be negligible - unless, of course, you are Abu Qatada. But what about the long-term effect?

'Reputational cost'

When Mr Justice Mitting bailed Abu Qatada, he said that if ministers failed to overturn the judgement barring deportation, the legal game was up. He added: "Unless the United Kingdom Government is prepared to accept the political and reputational cost of defying a judgment of the Strasbourg Court, deportation would not be possible."

And it is this reputational cost that is the real concern of top lawyers and diplomats who fly the Union Flag overseas.

The UK played a critical role in creating the European Convention of Human Rights because it wanted to replace dictators with the rule of law. Decades on, the Foreign Office projects a message globally - that the UK is a leading advocate of human rights, fairness and good governance.

So, if the UK turned its back on the European Court and deported Abu Qatada, opponents of such a move argue that Britain would in fact be turning its back on its own history. And that, they say, would make it twice as hard for our people around the world to tell other people to clean up their act.

There's one final point. If Abu Qatada were deported while the European Court's bar was in place, it's entirely possible that his lawyers could ask a judge to order that he be returned to London. It's happened before - most recently last December - and it could happen again.

Dominic Casciani Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The law maybe an ass but the alternatives don't inspire much either. We must go through due process. If we don't like the laws we can change them at the ballot box,in this case by voting UKIP and getting out of europe and thus Human Rights legislation. What we cannot do is say 'oh we don't agree with that' and ignore rulings which our government has agreed to adhere to.That slope is very slippery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Everyone misses the point. Why deport him to somewhere where we have no control over the danger he poses in future? Who knows what he may get up to abroad. Lock him up and keep him in UK where he can be monitored at a lesser cost to the taxpayer than watch him abroad. Silly to deport him really.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Habeas corpus (Latin: "you may have the body") is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention, that is, detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence.

    We have Magna Carta. The law applies equally, even to people you don’t like; otherwise we just have anarchy and are no better than those we oppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    #3. Perpetual Sigh
    Aptly named, how many times....the ECHR has absolutely nothing to do with the EU.
    If you adhere to the concept of the rule of law, you have to accept decisions that go against you as well as those find in your favour.
    If not you are then in the realm of ad hoc law, a situation no country calling itself a democracy would want to be in.
    Try him here, in camera if necessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I don`t believe that the ECHR could do a thing if we decided to just deport him to Jordan and sincerely believe we should go ahead and deport this man. He has contributed absolutely nothing to this country and has spent his time fostering extremism and leeching off our benefit system. No more hiding behind our laws in a country he despises. Deport him now

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    As everyone knows by now, our agreement relating to ECHR decisions merely requires UK courts to take them into account; it does not require our courts to adopt ECHR decisions without demur. If the UK government chooses to deport this gentleman (who, remember, has not been convicted of any crime in this country but has nevertheless been in prison for many years) the ECHR cannot prevent it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The problem is in the concept of Human Rights. As a civilised society we can't arbitrarily remove someones human rights simply because we don't like them, its a human right not to be a likable person just as much as it's a right not to be tortured.

    We should remember cases like this when we preach to other countries about their human rights records. Rules were, on occasion, made to be broken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    David Cameron would be assured another term in office if he kicked him out, and at the same time become a legend amongst the law abiding folk of the UK!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    We should just para-drop him into Brussels...then he's their problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    If I was in charge of this country, Abu Qatada would have gone straight from prison to the airport.

    What would Europe do, fine us? I wouldn't pay. Kick us out? Not a chance, they need us more than we need them at the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    What if the UK stood up for it's own laws instead of being dictated too by the ECHR? Where was the referendum on handing our lawmaking abroad!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Europe shouldn't have had a say in this. If they want him to say in the EU so bad, we should have deported him to France and let them sort it out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The government must abide by the law and once any government fails to do this it loses all its moral high ground. It'sthe slippery slope towards anarchy, and although I can't wait for Katada to go we must be patient and go through all the legal niceties first.

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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