Oral statement to Parliament

Abu Qatada court ruling: oral statement by the Home Secretary

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Home Secretary statement on Abu Qatada court ruling on Monday 12 November 2012.

With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement. Earlier today, the special immigration appeals commission upheld Abu Qatada’s appeal against his deportation.

I hardly need to tell the house that the government strongly disagrees with this ruling. Qatada is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist, who is accused of serious crimes in his home country of Jordan. The British government has obtained from the Jordanian government assurances not just in relation to the treatment of Qatada himself, but about the quality of the legal processes that would be followed throughout his trial. We will therefore seek leave to appeal today’s decision.

Mr Speaker, it is important to note that SIAC ruled that the Jordanian government will do everything within their power to ensure that a retrial is fair.’ 

The court said that ‘the Jordanian judiciary, like their executive counterparts, are determined to ensure that the appellant will receive, and be seen to receive, a fair retrial.’ And SIAC also said that ‘if the only question which we had to answer was whether or not, in a general sense, the appellant would be subjected to a flagrantly unfair retrial in Jordan, our unhesitating answer would be that he would not.’ These words demonstrate the extent of the cooperation between the Jordanian and British governments in the assurances we’ve received.

The house will remember that the ruling by the European court of human rights in January said that Qatada could not be deported because of the risk that evidence obtained through the alleged mistreatment of two co-defendants from previous trials might be used in a new trial. That ruling, I still believe, was wrong. But since then, the Jordanian government has provided the British government with further specific assurances and information about the quality of any trial that Qatada will face. And the assurances directly address the issues raised by the European court.

First, the state security court, which would hear Qatada’s case, is not a quasi-military court - as Strasbourg suggested - but a legitimate part of the Jordanian legal system that considers criminal cases. Moreover, the Jordanian government has promised to ensure that Qatada’s case would be heard by civilian, not military, judges.

Second, upon his return to Jordan, Qatada’s conviction in absentia would be quashed. He would be detained in a civilian detention centre, open to international inspection. He would have access to defence lawyers, who would be present during any questioning. And he would have the opportunity to make a fresh statement on his involvement in these cases.

And third, while Qatada’s co-defendants from previous trials would be compelled to give evidence, they are both now free men, so we can be confident that they would give truthful testimony. SIAC also agreed that Qatada’s lawyers would be able to cross-examine these men during his trial.  And the Jordanian expert witness told SIAC that their evidence would anyway no longer be admissible, although the absence of case law and other witness statements meant that SIAC could not be sure that this is the case.

In addition, Mr Speaker, torture has been illegal in Jordan since 2006. And last year the Jordanian constitution was amended to make clear that not only is torture forbidden, ‘any statement extracted from a person under duress … or the threat thereof shall neither be taken into consideration or relied on.’ That is a direct quotation from article 8.2 of the Jordanian constitution.

Despite these assurances, despite the determination of the Jordanian government and judiciary to allow Qatada a fair trial, despite the change to the Jordanian constitution that expressly prohibits torture and the use of evidence obtained by torture, in the absence of clear case law, Mr Justice Mitting still found in Qatada’s favour. In doing so, we believe he applied the wrong legal test.

But as a result of that decision, Mr Justice Mitting has also ruled that, from tomorrow, Qatada will be granted bail, subject to a sixteen-hour curfew. In addition, government lawyers are arguing for the most restrictive bail conditions possible, and those conditions will be published by the court in the morning.

Mr Speaker, it is deeply unsatisfactory that Abu Qatada has not already been deported to Jordan. Successive governments have tried to remove him since December 2001. He has a longstanding association with Al Qaeda. British courts have found that he ‘provides a religious justification for acts of violence and terror.’ In Jordan, he has been tried and found guilty in absentia of planning to attack Western and Israeli targets.

It is also deeply unsatisfactory that the European court of human rights continues to move the goalposts for governments trying to deport dangerous foreign nationals. The Court has longstanding case law in relation to Article Three of the European Convention - prohibiting torture and inhuman or degrading treatment - and successive British governments have secured deportation with assurance agreements with other governments so deportations can proceed in accordance with the law. But the court’s unprecedented ruling in January - in relation to article six, the right to a fair trial - has added yet another barrier to deportation.

Mr Speaker, notwithstanding the fact that I still believe that the European court’s ruling was wrong, I also believe that we have obtained from the Jordanian government the information and assurances that would allow us to deport Qatada in compliance with that ruling and the law. That is why we disagree with today’s decision, and that is why we are seeking leave to appeal. The government has been doing everything it can to get rid of Abu Qatada - and we will continue to do so. And I commend this statement to the house.