As the whole House will know, successive governments have sought the deportation of this dangerous man since 2001. The prospect of his deportation now depends on one very narrow issue: the question of whether evidence obtained through the mistreatment of others might be used against him in his home country of Jordan. In January last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there was indeed such a risk, and therefore blocked his deportation.
Following that ruling, the British Government sought from the Jordanian Government further information and 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.
Although SIAC, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, noted that the Jordanian Government “will do everything within their power to ensure that a retrial is fair,” in November last year it ruled that there was still a risk that a trial in Jordan would breach Qatada’s rights under Article Six of the European Convention.
Since then, the Government has pursued a twin strategy. First, we would appeal SIAC’s decision. Second, we would work with the Jordanian Government to seek further assurances to convince the courts that Qatada would indeed receive a fair trial. I want to take each of those approaches in turn.
First, the Government’s appeal. On 27 March, the Court of Appeal confirmed SIAC’s interpretation of the law, and ruled that we cannot deport Qatada to Jordan under present conditions. Yesterday, the Court of Appeal refused the Government’s application to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. The Government disagrees with that ruling, and I can tell the House that we will now seek permission to appeal from the Supreme Court itself.
Second, I can tell the House that I have signed a comprehensive mutual legal assistance agreement with Jordan. This agreement is fully reciprocal, offers considerable advantages to both countries and reflects our joint commitment to tackling international crime. It covers assistance in obtaining evidence for the investigation and prosecution of crimes in either country and provides a framework for assistance in the restraint and confiscation of the proceeds of crime.
The agreement also includes a number of fair trial guarantees – these would apply to anyone being deported from either country. 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 re-trial in Jordan.
Before the agreement can come into force, and become a formal treaty, it must be ratified by both countries, and the Jordanian Government will be laying the draft treaty before its Parliament shortly.
In the United Kingdom, this agreement does not require any changes to our domestic law, but it must be placed before both Houses for 21 sitting days before it is ratified. So I can confirm that the text of the treaty has been laid before both Houses today, and, depending on the date of Parliament’s prorogation, we expect the 21 days to be completed before the end of June.
Under Jordanian law, once ratified the provisions of the treaty will take primacy over existing Jordanian law in cases such as Qatada’s. We therefore believe that the treaty will deliver the protections required by SIAC to secure Qatada’s deportation.
Mr Speaker, I believe that the treaty we have agreed with Jordan – once ratified by both Parliaments – will finally make possible the deportation of Abu Qatada. But as I have warned the House before, even when the treaty is fully ratified, it will not mean that Qatada will be on a plane to Jordan within days. We will be able to issue a new deportation decision, but Qatada will still have legal appeals available to him, and it will therefore be up to the courts to make the final decision. That legal process may well still take many months, but in the meantime I believe Qatada should remain behind bars.
Lastly, Mr Speaker, I would like to say this. As any sane observer of this case will conclude, it is absurd for the deportation of a suspected foreign terrorist to take so many years and cost the taxpayer so much money. That is why we need to make sense of our human rights laws, and it’s why we need to remove the many layers of appeals available to foreign nationals we want to deport. But in the meantime, this Government is doing everything it can to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, I believe this treaty gives us every chance of succeeding in that aim, and so I commend this statement to the House.