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Case Study: The Human Rights Act 1998 & Abu Qatada

The Human Rights Act received royal assent in November 1998. The Act came into force across the United Kingdom in October 2000. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were bound by the Act from their inception in 1999.

The aim of the Act is to ‘give further effect’ in UK law to the fundamental rights and freedoms in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Act makes available in UK courts a remedy for breach of a Convention right, without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Section 6 of the Act makes it unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.

Put simply, the Human Rights Act 1998 means that an individual, group or organisation can defend their human rights in the British courts and that all public organisations, especially the Government at all levels and the Police must treat everyone equally, with respect, dignity and fairness.

One of the most recent human rights cases has been that of Abu Qatada. Abu Qatada was a Jordanian born national residing in the United Kingdom.

Following the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, Abu Qatada was expelled from Kuwait for extremist links and he fled with his family to the United Kingdom on a false passport claiming asylum when he arrived citing religious persecution and claiming he had been tortured in Jordan. He was granted asylum and safe haven in the United Kingdom in 1994 and was granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom in 1998.

Between 1994 and 2002 it was alleged that Abu Qatada was establishing links with extremists in the United Kingdom and promoting extremist literature. Qatada was wanted in a number of countries including Jordan to face allegations of terrorism.

In 2002, Abu Qatada was arrested and detained under anti-terror legislation. His detention began a long legal process using the Human Rights Act 1998 to prevent him being deported from the United Kingdom back to Jordan to face trial.

Abu Qatada was detained indefinitely without trial under special provisions within the legislation governing terrorist activity until 2005. In early 2005, a Special Immigration Appeals Commission rejected an appeal by Qatada to be released from his detention without trial. Later in 2005, the legislation changed and control orders were introduced for suspected terrorists and Qatada was released under a control order. Within a few weeks of his release, Qatada was re-arrested pending deportation to Jordan. In 2007, a British court ruled that Abu Qatada could be deported to Jordan. Qatada appealed the court ruling.

In 2008, the Court of Appeal ruled that Qatada could not be deported to Jordan as he would likely face a trial in which evidence would be produced that was obtained using methods of torture and thus, he would not face a fair trial. The Court ruled that it could allow the deportation as this would be a breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result of the ruling by the Appeal Court, Qatada was released from prison but subjected to a further control order.

Qatada was re-arrested later in 2008 when a Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled that he may breach his bail conditions and abscond.  In February 2009 the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom overturned the ruling of the Court of Appeal and ruled that Qatada could be deported. Qatada appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

In early 2012, the European Court on Human Rights ruled that Abu Qatada could not be deported to Jordan as any deportation would deny him his right under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights to a fair trial. Qatada was subsequently re-arrested following a decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and then released a short time later under strict control order conditions while the British Government sought assurances from the Government of Jordan on ensuring a fair trial for Qatada.

In April 2012, Qatada was re-arrested after the British Government has been given the assurances they had requested from Jordan and an order was laid down for his deportation.

Qatada once again appealed to the European Court of Human Rights asking for the order to deport him to be revoked. The European Court of Human Rights denied Qatada’s request for the order to be revoked but a subsequent further appeal to a Special Immigration Appeals Commission was successful in having the deportation order revoked due to concerns about Qatada’s human rights and the use of torture in any subsequent trial in Jordan. Qatada was then released on bail under strict control order conditions. The British Government then appealed the decision to revoke the order by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

The decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission had in effect, overturned a ruling by the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country. There was exasperation throughout the country and especially at the heart of government with the Prime Minister commenting publicly on the frustration he felt that Qatada still had not been deported.

Qatada was then re-arrested for allegedly breaching his bail conditions. Shortly after his re-arrest, the Court of Appeal rejected the appeal by the British Government to have the deportation order reinstated. The Court of Appeal also refused the British Government the right to appeal their decision stating that “states cannot expel someone where there is a real risk that they will face a trial based on evidence obtained by torture.”

In May 2013, Abu Qatada made a public statement announcing he would leave the United Kingdom if he could be guaranteed that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him in any trial that would take place in Jordan. The British and Jordanian government’s subsequently agreed and ratified a treaty that made it clear that no such practice would be invoked in any future trial.

As a result of the ratification of the treaty between the United Kingdom and Jordan, Abu Qatada was deported to Jordan.

In June and September 2014, Jordanian courts cleared Abu Qatada of any involvement in terrorism activity that he was tried for and he was released from prison.

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