Abu Qatada wins appeal against deportation

Abu Qatada Abu Qatada has been fighting extradition for several years

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Muslim cleric Abu Qatada will be released on bail on Tuesday, having won his appeal at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac).

His appeal against deportation was upheld after lawyers claimed he would not get a fair trial in Jordan, where he is accused of plotting bomb attacks.

He will be subject to strict conditions including a curfew when he leaves Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire.

The home secretary has branded the ruling "deeply unsatisfactory".

Theresa May told the Commons that the government "has been doing everything it can to get rid of Abu Qatada and we will continue to do so".

She added: "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".

Analysis

The case of Abu Qatada has put a real strain on relations between two close allies.

It has subjected Jordan's legal system and human rights record to uncomfortable scrutiny.

There is real disappointment among Jordanian officials about the Special Immigrations Appeals Commission ruling.

One minister pointed out that in recent months there has been a concerted effort by Amman to give the UK the guarantees it needs to send Abu Qatada back to Jordan.

There have been direct talks between the British Prime Minister, David Cameron and Jordan's King Abdullah II. Home Secretary Theresa May has been in close contact with the Jordanian authorities.

A "memorandum of understanding" gave assurances that Abu Qatada would not be mistreated here and would face a fair trial for the terrorism charges he faces.

The Jordanian constitution was also changed to ban evidence obtained by torturing witnesses.

Still Abu Qatada won the right to stay in the UK. The Jordanians say they will work with the British government on their appeal.

This case has not got wide public attention in Jordan but a childhood friend of the Islamist cleric, Hassan Abu Haniyeh told me "this was the right decision".

'Horrified'

Mrs May went on to say that the government would continue "to pursue all avenues" with the Jordanian government. They have assured British authorities that no evidence gained through torture would be used against the preacher.

Shadow home secretary, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, criticised Mrs May's "overblown" strategy in dealing with Abu Qatada, and said "serious questions" needed to be answered.

In response to her statement, Ms Cooper told MPs: "This is an extremely serious and worrying judgement that means from tomorrow [Tuesday] Abu Qatada will be back on Britain's streets.

"I think people will be horrified across this country to learn that that is the case."

Ms Cooper also asked whether preparations were in place for a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPim) - but warned it would be weaker than the control order created by Labour but scrapped by the coalition.

Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, is subject to bail conditions including being allowed out of his house only between 08:00 and 16:00, having to wear an electronic tag, and being restricted in who he meets.

However, the judge did not force him to tell the Home Office in advance where he was going if he stepped outside.

Before his bail was decided, Abu Qatada's lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC had told the court: "There is no reasonable prospect of lawful removal [deportation] within any reasonable time.

"There is no justification for continuing to deprive Mr Othman of his liberty.

"Enough is enough, it has gone on for many many years now," the QC added.

An earlier statement from the Home Office said: "We have obtained 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.

"Indeed, today's ruling found 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'."

Lawyers can apply for permission at the Court of Appeal to challenge the ruling by Mr Justice Mitting.

Jordan's acting information minister Nayef al-Fayez said his government shared the British government's "disappointment and concern".

"We will definitely study this ruling carefully with them to see what steps we can take. We understand there will be an appeal and accordingly we will work with them to be able to bring him back to justice here in Jordan.

"Concerning the fear of a fair trial for him - there were guarantees for the British government on that, but also our constitution and our judicial system guarantees him that."

The decision by Siac means that the legal avenues are finally beginning to narrow - we are now in the end game in the home secretary's battle against Abu Qatada.

The European Court of Human Rights, echoing the concerns of the UK's own Court of Appeal, said the preacher would be treated well if returned - but there was one big problem.

In their judgement they said that it doesn't matter what someone has done, modern nations that believe in the rule of law cannot send people back to regimes that torture - and then use that evidence against other suspects.

Theresa May spent weeks trying to get a new deal with Jordan that would convince judges that the country had reformed and the preacher would get a completely fair trial.

This defeat is a huge blow to her and to the government's strategy of doing diplomatic deals with countries accused of abusing human rights.

'Huge blow'

BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani said the decision left Home Secretary Theresa May in "completely uncharted legal waters".

"This is an absolutely huge blow to the home secretary - a very, very significant judgement."

Judges at the European Court in Strasbourg ruled early in 2012 that the cleric would not face ill-treatment if returned to Jordan. They said a special UK-Jordan agreement over Mr Qatada's treatment, called a Memorandum of Understanding, was sound and met European standards of humane treatment.

Critically however, the judge did not believe he would get a fair trial because a Jordanian court could use evidence against Abu Qatada that had been obtained from the torture of others.

Despite obtaining additional assurances from the Jordanian authorities, Mr Justice Mitting ruled that he was not satisfied Mr Qatada would be tried fairly.

Abu Qatada faces a re-trial for allegedly conspiring to cause explosions on Western and Israeli targets in 1998 and 1999. He was found guilty of terrorism offences in his absence in Jordan in 1999.

The Palestinian-born Jordanian has been described as the spiritual leader of the mujahideen. Security chiefs believe he played a key ideological role in spreading support for suicide bombings.

He has been subject to lengthy periods of detention since 2001 although he has never been charged with a crime in the UK.

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