Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Assurances" are not enough

For the past ten years the UK has been trying to rid itself of Abu Qatada, first detaining him without trial as a terrorist, then plotting to extradite him to Jordan where he had already been tried in absentia. And at every turn, the courts have refused permission for extradition because of one key issue: torture. Quite apart from the threat of Abu Qatada himself being tortured, there is the risk that he will be tried on the basis of evidence procured by torture. This is contrary to the ECHR, and so he cannot be deported until those risks are removed.

The British government thought they had got around it by gaining an "assurance" from the Jordanian government that those things would not happen. But a UK court has laid down the law: assurances are not enough. They want to see Jordan pass robust laws against evidence procured by torture before they will allow any extradition:

The radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada is to be released from Long Lartin high security prison after winning his latest legal challenge against being sent back to Jordan, where he faces allegations of plotting bomb attacks.

Qatada, who was once described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden's righthand man in Europe, is to be released on Tuesday on an electronic tag to enforce a 16-hour curfew between the hours of 4pm and 8am and under severe restrictions as to who he can meet.

His release, following a ruling by the special immigration appeals commission (Siac), is a setback for the home secretary, Theresa May, who personally secured assurances from the Jordanian authorities that Qatada would not face a trial based on evidence obtained by torture. She intends to fight the ruling, and the Home Office immediately gave notice of its intention to go directly to the court of appeal.

Mr Justice Mitting and the two other senior judges who allowed Qatada's appeal said that despite those assurances a real risk remained that he would face a trial based on such evidence. They said changes needed to be made to the Jordanian criminal code before they could be satisfied that the risk no longer existed.

The government will of course appeal, but I think the court is right. The word of politicians and governments cannot be trusted on such a serious matter. That means an odious person goes free, but that is better than allowing them to be tortured or receive an unfair trial.

Of course, the UK could always prosecute Abu Qatada themselves. It speaks volumes about the quality of their "evidence" against him that they have not done so.