wednesday, 24 april of 2013

Theresa May announces new Jordan treaty to allow Abu Qatada deportation

Abu Qatada

Theresa May announces new Jordan treaty to allow Abu Qatada deportation

The home secretary, Theresa May, has announced a new treaty wit Jordan designed to finally clear the way for the deportation of the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada.

She told MPs that it would include new guarantees that Abu Qatada would get a fair trial, which would overcome the objections from the British courts that he would face "a flagrant denial of justice" if he were sent back to face terror charges based on evidence obtained by torture.

The new "mutual legal assistance agreement" is expected to be ratified by parliament by the end of June. The home secretary said that while it would not mean that Abu Qatada would "be on a plane within days", it would give the government "every chance in succeeding" in sending him back to Jordan.

May also confirmed that the government was "exploring all options" in the case, including possible temporary withdrawal from the European convention of human rights. "We should have all the options, including leaving altogether, on the table," she told MPs. "The prime minister is looking at all the options."

The new moves follow the fresh setback May suffered in the case on Tuesday when the court of appeal refused her permission to take the Abu Qatada case to the supreme court. The appeal court judges ruled that the existing undertakings from Jordan did not provide sufficient protections for him to face a fair trial on his return.

The new treaty will trigger a fresh round of legal challenges from the cleric's lawyers that are likely to go all the way up to the court of appeal once again. This process will take many more months; the home secretary also announced that Abu Qatada would remain in a high-security prison while it takes place.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said that 12 months ago May had promised Abu Qatada would soon be put on a plane: "We are back to legal square one again. In the past she has overstated the evidence, overstated her legal position, and overstated her legal strategy, which instead has failed. We hope that she has not done so again."

Cooper said there was uncertainty over whether the new treaty would actually clear the way for his deportation, pointing out that the special immigration appeals commission that blocked his removal said a change in the Jordanian criminal procedure code or an authoritative ruling by its constitutional court was needed to ensure that torture-tainted evidence was not admissible.

The text of the treaty includes article 27, which contains a stringent ban on the use of torture-obtained evidence. It places the onus on the prosecution to "prove beyond any doubt that the statement has been obtained out of free will and choice and was not obtained by torture". Qatada's lawyers are expected to question the credibility of such guarantees.

May said the treaty included a number of fair trial guarantees that would apply to anyone being deported: "I believe these guarantees will provide the courts with the assurance that Qatada will not face evidence that might have been obtained by torture in a retrial in Jordan." She conceded that it will be up to the British courts to make the final decision, and that that was a process that could well still take many months.

Before May's statement, Downing Street confirmed David Cameron was examining the possibility of withdrawing on a temporary basis from the European convention on human rights. Asked whether the prime minister would rule out any withdrawal, the spokesman said: "The prime minister met with the home secretary, the justice secretary and the attorney general yesterday to discuss the case. I am not going to get into specifics on the details of what the government is considering. We are going to explore every option."

The Conservatives have used the Abu Qatada case to raise the possibility of withdrawing from the convention. But they have no support from the Liberal Democrats, which means an exit would have to be delayed until 2015 at the earliest.

A Liberal Democrat source said: "There is no proposal temporarily to withdraw from the European convention. Nothing of that sort has been put to us. We support the ECHR. We have seen reports about withdrawal, but we are not going to get drawn into press speculation."

Kenneth Clarke, the former lord chancellor, poured cold water on the idea of a possible withdrawal. He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "It's not the policy of this government to withdraw either for a short period or for a lengthy period from the European convention on human rights."

Clarke said the only issue in the Qatada case was whether or not he was going to face a trial involving torture: "You're not going to get a British court to deport anybody for trial to a country where torture is going to be involved: you never have, you never will. If you got rid of the convention they'd start invoking the ordinary principles of common law," he said.

(Published by The Guardian – April 24, 2013)

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