This week has seen Abu Qatada doing what he does best. The media has been swamped by his undoubted right to a fair trial whilst the rights of Britain’s population have been eclipsed. Be in no doubt, whatever the results – whether he is deported or not – he and Terror Unlimited have won a victory. The architects of his victory are, of course, the European Judges.
I fully endorse the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), as do a great many of my colleagues. The rights set out in this Treaty, signed by the UK in 1951, were inspired by Sir Winston Churchill after he witnessed the appalling human rights violations committed by the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s. I absolutely agree with Churchill that the UK should not torture people (enshrined in Article 3) and that we should ensure people receive a fair trial (Article 6).
What I do not agree with is the gross distortion of these important legal principles by unelected judges sitting in Strasbourg. What these judges are now saying is that not only does Article 3 or Article 6 mean that the British authorities must not torture people or cause unfair trials, but the very act of deporting someone found in Britain to a country which might not plan to abide by the ECHR is itself a breach of human rights!
European judges have ruled repeatedly that Article 3 means that the UK is not allowed to deport someone when there is a real risk, however small, that the person will suffer any form of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when they arrive home. Now, if we knew someone was going to be tortured in the true sense of the word, I agree that it would be morally outrageous for us to deport them. Britain would be being complicit in the torture in the same way that I would be complicit in someone’s murder if I gave the prospective murderer a lift to the scene of the crime, knowing all the time what he intended to do!
But ‘degrading punishment’ has covered the smacking of a child in a school in Britain with a plimsoll in the 1980s. This is not what is on everyone’s mind when we discuss Abu Qatada and torture. And why not ask yourself what risk could ever possibly be described as not being ‘real’ (the judges’ words not mine). You soon find yourself in a situation where deporting anyone anywhere can make this case. This over-generous view of Article 3 is, I believe, wholly unjustified.
In the case of Qatada, the judges have gone one step further. Not only have they given an expansive interpretation to Article 3 but they are now expanding Article 6. There is a real risk that Qatada might not have a fair trial according to our standards as signatories to the ECHR, so we cannot deport him. Wondering whether Qatada might be tortured in Jordan is one thing but wondering whether his trial will be as immaculate as a British trial is another. Are we really going to be told that some doubt about the fairness of the procedure of his trial is the reason we are allowing one of the world’s most dangerous men to walk the streets of London? Needless to say that he is costing thousands of pounds a day because he has to be monitored by scores of policemen around the clock.
Quite rightly the UK Government has been appealing repeatedly to the European judges for them to see sense and allow us to deport a man that poses a severe threat to our national security. The British Government secured a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jordanian Government which guarantees that the Jordanian authorities won’t torture (or allow any inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) Qatada on his return and this satisfied the House of Lords in 2009. But this wasn’t good enough for our partners in Europe.
The judges have cleverly conflated the debate – they are using Article 6 to halt Qatada’s deportation but they are talking about torture. They know they will whip up a debate about torture when in fact we should be debating the fact that these judges are over-stepping their remit. Qatada must go back to his home country and face justice – justice meted out by Jordanians and not dictated by faceless folk in Strasbourg!