If anybody remained under the impression that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) cared about Britain’s security then yesterday’s events must finally have persuaded them otherwise.
The ECHR ruled that Al Qaeda associate Islamist cleric Abu Qatada could not be deported to his native Jordan. This is not the first time the ECHR has tried to stop justice happening but it should be the last.
Abu Qatada is a Jordanian national. He came to the UK in 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirates passport. Foolishly he was given refugee status but was granted only limited leave to remain. He distinctly overstayed that welcome.
From his point of view he used the time productively, becoming indispensable as Osama Bin Laden’s ambassador in Europe. He served as a spiritual adviser to multiple radical Islamists, including the “20th hijacker” on 9/11, Zacarias Moussaoui, and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. He was also mentor to Abu Hamza.
But Qatada was even more important and dangerous. For years he raised funds and organised attendance at terror training camps. He issued fatwas from his base in London, instigating international acts of jihadist violence.
Believed to have known Bin Laden since 1989 he was linked to terror groups in Egypt, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Algeria and elsewhere. He should never have been here in the first place but more than a decade ago the argument for deporting him became overwhelming.
BACK in April 1999 he was convicted in absentia in Jordan for involvement in an attempted bombing of an American school as well as the car-bombing of a tourist hotel.
The following year he was convicted, again in absentia, for involvement in an attempted terror attack aimed at Western targets in Jordan. Jordan wanted the UK to extradite Qatada to his native country to face trial. Yet he stayed.
Finally in the aftermath of 9/11 Qatada was taken into custody and put in Belmarsh prison. It looked like extradition was possible but the ECHR decided otherwise. Despite the fact Qatada was not even here legally the ECHR pulled out every stop to ensure he stayed.
Originally the court objected to his deportation because they feared Jordan, one of Britain’s better allies in the Middle East, might subject him to mistreatment. So doing everything by the book in 2005 this country reached a memorandum of understanding with Jordan that ensured Qatada would be treated well there. But Qatada appealed to the ECHR.
For them the UK’s effort was not good enough. So the case went backwards and forwards. It went to the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission (SIAC) which found against Qatada. He appealed.
It went to the Court of Appeal, then back to the ECHR, back to SIAC, over to the House of Lords, back to the ECHR and so on. All of this has of course been paid for by the British taxpayer, doling out cash to pay for the ECHR to stop decisions made by British courts to extradite somebody who should not even be here.
Throughout, Qatada’s defence used nearly every article of the European Convention on Human Rights to stop the UK deporting him including his “right to liberty”. Yesterday the ECHR upheld Qatada’s latest “right” to stay in Britain by citing yet another article, No6.
So after all this the ECHR now claims that Qatada cannot be deported, not because he himself might be mistreated but because evidence used against him in his trial in Jordan may come from people who have been mistreated. The ECHR has conspicuously and repeatedly moved its goalposts. But instead of being ashamed they are proud of this.
The court boasted: “This is the first time that the court has found that an expulsion would be in violation of article 6.” Well hurrah for them.
One thing should by now be abundantly clear. The ECHR may have been invented for good reasons. It may even have done some good, though it’s difficult to think of anything particular. But nevertheless it is time for the fantasy to end that a foreign court should ever have a say over the security of the people of this country.
The ECHR has repeatedly put the most minuscule rights of terrorists over the most basic right to life of people who would be the victims of terrorism.
There are only two options open to us. Either Britain gets out of the ECHR altogether or we ignore its judgments when they are flagrantly wrong. Other countries such as France and Italy have shown that it is perfectly possible to ignore ECHR rulings. Neither are seriously regarded as barbarous.
They are nations that are serious about tackling barbarism. And when they have deported people despite the protestations of the ECHR what happens? It huffs and puffs but it has no power to stop a country ignoring its illogical and dangerous rulings.
The rule of law matters greatly. And it matters that it is seen to be not only fair but sensible. The ECHR is making the law ridiculous.
Here is a solution: today Britain should return Qatada to Jordan. He should never have been here and we never wanted him.
The only people who do want him belong to a court outside this country whose wonky judgments should make us wonder whether they are any more desirable than the terrorists to whom they give hope.