UK Liberty

Abu Qatada and human rights

Posted in detention without charge, law and order, rule of law by ukliberty on February 25, 2009

Lots of complaints along the following lines.

Alisdair Palmer in the Telegraph:

One step forward, two steps back. The Law Lords ruled last week that Abu Qatada – the Islamic extremist who has called for the murder of Jews, Americans and Britons, and who has been identified as al-Qaeda’s spiritual leader in Britain – can be deported back to Jordan, where he has been convicted in absentia of conspiracy to cause explosions. But the very next day, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg decided that he should be paid £2,500 compensation because the Government detained him without trial in Belmarsh prison.

Er yes, two different cases: he won one, lost the other.  What’s Palmer’s point?

And the Strasbourg court may yet decide that the Law Lords are wrong. Abu Qatada should not be deported back to Jordan: doing so would violate his human rights.

Difficult to see on what point they could decide the Law Lords are wrong.  They might find that the diplomatic assurances from Jordan are inadequate?  But that’s speculation.

Palmer later appears to suggest we simply ignore rulings we don’t like:

 Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, has to authorise the payment of £2,500 to Abu Qatada and to each of the eight others that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled must be compensated. She could simply refuse to proceed with it, on the grounds that we have already paid him thousands of pounds in benefits, and it is outrageous to compensate someone who wishes to destroy British society.

What I think is outrageous is that people think those whom they find objectionable are somehow not entitled to due process or compensation for being unlawfully detained, and that we should simply ignore rulings (that we signed up to obeying, by the way) that we find objectionable.

What are the tenets of British society?  I suggest one of them is that we obey the rule of law.  In not allowing due process for objectionable people and ignoring adverse judgements we are not obeying the rule of law.  Who then is damaging our society?  The one person suspected (not convicted, or even charged, in an English court) of involvement in terrorism, or the multitude of influential people, from journalists to politicians, who are seriously suggesting a British Home Secretary should violate the rule of law when it’s convenient.

By the way, in relation to the £2,500: there are roughly 25 million households in the UK, so we could say that each household paid £0.0001; the average income of each household is roughly £30,000 pa, so we could say that each household paid on average 0.0000003% of its annual income. Or let’s say the final cost, including legal and benefits, is £1 million (just guessing here) – this means each household has paid 0.0001 % of its annual income. Multiply that cost by 10, if you like, to £10m – each household will have paid 40p, or 0.001%.

The point being that, yes, £2,500 is a lot of money to the average person – on the other hand, it is insignificant in the scheme of things, and we are only paying it because our authorities unlawfully imprisoned Qatada in the first place.  Likewise the £1m, or even £10m, is insignificant in the scheme of things, and it looks like we could have got out of paying that had the authorities got their act together sooner, including in terms of allowing intercept evidence in court.  

And of course it is the taxpayer who has to pay Qatada compensation for the mistakes made by the authorities.

(There is a reasonable piece on £2,500 from Alan Travis in the Guardian.)

Also, Palmer’s complaint that Qatada will be here for ages because the European Court has a backlog of cases isn’t particularly fair on Qatada (or any other applicant) – it suggests the Court could do with better funding and processes.  Of course people will exhaust due process if they are able.  But are those people at fault for it taking a long time?

Later, Palmer suggests formally withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European court altogether:

The most incisively intelligent of the Law Lords, Lord Hoffman, has suggested opting out of the jurisdiction of the European Court now that the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into our law. Can anyone seriously maintain that the judges in Strasbourg are more likely to reach wise decisions on how to apply human rights law in Britain than our own judges? Can it even be claimed that we would lose anything at all by reverting to the age-old system of having our own judges interpret our law, rather than having, as the ultimate authority, foreign judges who know nothing of it? To pose those questions is to answer them. The sooner we extricate ourselves from Strasbourg, the better for the rule of law in Britain.

I’m not sure if I’m being fair in suggesting there is an element of xenophobia here.  The claim that foreign judges “know nothing” of our law is bizarre, particularly given that they refer to it throughout their judgements (and of course some of them are British). Palmer also seems to sneer at the judges who come from such countries as “Albania, Serbia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Russia, Romania and Latvia”, because those countries (not the particular judges) have had problems with obeying the rule of law in the past.  And there is some irony here, in that Palmer on the one hand suggests we violate the rule of law, but on the other he suggests those countries are bad because they violated it.

I’m not sure how withdrawing would work – I think that being a member state of the Council of Europe and the European Union (two different organisations) obliges us to be signed up to the Convention, and the jurisdiction of the court, so this would require renegotiation.  But this seems a moot point in relation to Qatada’s case.


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