David Calling

The Case of Abu Qatada

Abu Qatada can be deported from this country, so the Law Lords today have decided, and they are the British equivalent to the Supreme Court. And about time too. This case has exposed manifest absurdities in the way the British handle their affairs.

A Palestinian-Jordanian by birth, Abu Qatada came to Britain in 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirate passport. He wasn’t thrown out. On the contrary, the following year he and his family of five children applied for asylum and were granted it. Pretty soon the lot of them were living on benefits paid by the British taxpayer. The man is wanted for murder and terrorism in Jordan and several other countries, and they have asked for his extradition. In vain, of course. Meanwhile he specialised in inflammatory sermons, tapes of which were found in a Hamburg apartment used by some of the 9/11 terrorists. Reputedly raising funds in Europe for Osama bin Laden, he had £170,000 in cash in his house when the police at last came for him. And still he wasn’t thrown out.

An appalling game began as he played upon the weaknesses of the law. The British Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights protected him. He would be arrested, given bail, and either freed by the court or else went on the run. When the government tried to change the law to detain people like him without trial, the judges saved him. Lord Hoffman, a Law Lord, earned his place in British history alongside Ethelred the Unready by pronouncing that “the real threat to the life of the nation” does not come from terrorists but from the kind of law the government was seeking to introduce in this case. Today’s ruling by his colleagues may well upset Lord Hoffman, but there’s still a possible last chance for Abu Qatada. Three legal systems actually apply in Britain: its own code, sharia, and the European Court; and Abu Qatada may try to appeal to the latter. In which case, he may yet again avoid being flown home to stand trial in Jordan. This is not just a story about tying ourselves up in legal red tape on behalf of someone able to take advantage in order to abuse and injure us. Absurdities, did I say? Death wish is more like it.   

David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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