The Al-Qaeda preacher Abu Qatada is a Jordanian national who is in the UK illegally
(having come here in 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirates passport). The headache he has caused successive UK governments looks like finally reaching a peak. But there is a simple solution to the
problem he poses.
Last month, not only for the first time in the decade-long Qatada process, but for the first time ever in an extradition case, the European Court of Human Rights cited Article 6 ‘rights to
fair trial’ to ensure that Abu Qatada could not be returned to Jordan. The Court had previously played around in the Qatada case only with Articles 2, 3 and 5. So through citing Article 6 the
ECtHR not only moved the goal-posts, it made a mockery of the extraordinary efforts made by the last government to ensure it jumped through every previous hoop the ECtHR set up (including putting
together a memorandum of understanding with Jordan in 2005 to satisfy Article 3 demands, which ensured that Qatada himself would not be mistreated).
Despite the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruling in 2007 that the ‘reach and depth’ of Qatada’s influence is ‘formidable, even incalculable,’
yesterday a judge from the same body ruled, in the wake of the ECtHR decision, that Qatada must now be released on bail. Because of the ECtHR, someone who is here illegally looks set to remain here
in perpetuity, posing a threat to national security and costing the British taxpayer untold millions of pounds.
Unless, that is, the government acts.
There are three ways the government can rid itself of this problem. The first, as James notes, is that the Prime Minister begins an effort to reach agreement between every member of the
Council of Europe to make changes to the Convention and Court to ensure that a case like Qatada’s cannot be repeated. Given the opposition, not just in the rest of the Council, but inside
Britain’s coalition government, this would prove not just lengthy but difficult.
The second option is to leave the jurisdiction of the Court, something James describes as ‘fast becoming the least worst option for Cameron.’ But the political problems of taking such a
large step already look insurmountable. And so we come to the third option.
This one is not only replete with precedents, but swift and simple. It is that we simply put Abu Qatada on a plane back to Jordan tonight. The ECtHR has shown repeatedly that it cannot rule
sensibly in matters concerned with national security, and so — as I argued on Newsnight last night —
the best option available to this country is to ignore the ECtHR in such matters.
Of course vested interest legal/campaign groups, along with those who make the mistake of thinking that the ECtHR is some sort of ancient and inviolable body, will complain about this. They will
complain that ignoring the ECtHR puts us in the club of human rights violators like, say, Belarus. But it does not. Ignoring ridiculous ECtHR judgements that endanger our country in fact puts us in
the same club as outrageous and untouchable dictatorships such as, er, France and Italy.
Take Italy for example. In June 2008 the country deported Essid Sami Ben Khemais to Tunisia despite a ECtHR ruling. In December 2008 they deported Mourad Trabelsi to Tunisia despite requests by the
ECtHR that he remain in Italy. And in August 2009 Ali Ben Saffi Toumi was deported to Tunisia, having been found guilty in Italy of membership of a terrorist organisation.
So what happened? Well, taking just this last case, the ECtHR responded to the deportation with quite a strong letter. Herta Däubler-Gmelin, the Chair of the Council of Europe Parliamentary
Assembly Legal Affairs Committee, and Christos Pourgourides, the rapporteur on the implementation of Strasbourg Court judgments, said:
‘It is totally unacceptable to ignore binding interim measures ordered by the European Court of Human Rights. It is disgraceful, for a mature democracy like Italy, to have sent Ali
Toumi back to Tunisia last Sunday… The Italian authorities have taken measures in flagrant disregard of the Court’s orders. This intolerable behaviour must be condemned by the
Council of Europe without delay.’
That was it. Nasty, I’m sure. But what most people seem either to forget or not to know, is that for all its huffing and puffing the ECtHR has absolutely no way in which to enforce
its judgements. Ignoring them is a simple case of turning around and saying ‘you and whose army?’ Fortunately the ECtHR does not currently have an army.
So if we deport Abu Qatada later today to face trial in Jordan I am sure we should, as a nation, prepare ourselves for a quite strongly worded letter. But I think Britain could cope with that. We
are, after all, an even more mature democracy than Italy, and for many years we have managed to remain secure and notably avoided descent into tyranny even without the guidance of
Däubler-Gmelin, Pourgourides and co.
Renegotiation will take forever. Keeping Qatada is unacceptable. A plane from London to Jordan later tonight is not just the most sensible option, but also — in the world of the ECtHR —
the best legal option.