Published — Thursday 25 April 2013
Last update 25 April 2013 3:40 am
LONDON: Britain has signed a legal treaty with Jordan giving guarantees that terror suspect Abu Qatada would face a fair trial if deported, Home Secretary Theresa May said yesterday.
May made the announcement in Parliament a day after the Court of Appeal in London refused her permission to challenge its ruling that the radical preacher cannot be sent back due to rights concerns.
May said that the mutual legal assistance treaty would help end the long saga of Abu Qatada, who has been described by prosecutors as a key Al-Qaeda operative in Europe.
Successive British governments have tried since 2001 to remove the cleric, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman. He was convicted in absentia in Jordan over terror plots in 1999 and 2000.
British and European courts have blocked extradition over concerns that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him at a new trial in Jordan. The new treaty explicitly bans the use of evidence "where there are serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture or ill-treatment."
It must be ratified by both countries before coming into force.
May said the government also would ask Britain's Supreme Court to rule on the case. The Court of Appeal on Tuesday denied May's ministry permission to go to the top court, but May said she would ask the Supreme Court directly.
She warned that the issue would not be resolved quickly.
"It will not mean Qatada will be on a plane to Jordan within days," May told lawmakers in the House of Commons. "That legal process may well take many months."
She also said the government would consider changing Britain's human rights laws to make it easier to deport terrorist suspects.
"It is absurd for the deportation of a suspected foreign terrorist to take so many years and cost the taxpayer so much money," May said.
"The agreement also includes a number of fair trial guarantees... I believe these guarantees will provide the courts with the assurance that Qatada will not face evidence that might have been obtained by torture in a retrial in Jordan."
May said she believed the new treaty would give the British government "every chance of succeeding" in its years-long battle to deport Abu Qatada.
Both countries had yet to ratify the treaty and it was due to go before the Jordanian Parliament shortly, May said.
"I believe that the treaty we have agreed with Jordan, once ratified by both parliaments, will finally make possible the deportation of Abu Qatada," she said.
There was no immediate reaction from Amman.
May reiterated that the British government would now apply directly to the Supreme Court to hear their appeal, despite the Court of Appeal's refusal to deal with the case.
A Spanish judge once branded him the right-hand man in Europe of Osama Bin Laden, although Abu Qatada denies ever meeting the late Al-Qaeda leader.
The preacher was convicted in Jordan of terrorism charges in his absence, and is likely to face a retrial if he is returned.
But the European Court of Human Rights last year blocked his deportation over fears that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him in the new trial.
The government has repeatedly sought fresh assurances from Jordan about his treatment, but a Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) judge in November ruled again that he could not be sent back, a decision that was upheld by the Court of Appeal last month.