European court accused of prompting Abu Qatada appeal

Anger as Home Office officials claim ECHR asked cleric if he was going to appeal deportation to Jordan

LAST UPDATED AT 09:34 ON Sun 22 Apr 2012

“FURIOUS Home Office sources” have accused the European Court of Human Rights of telling Abu Qatada that he still had time to appeal against his deportation to Jordan, it has been claimed.

The ECHR’s intervention came last Monday, the sources told the Mail on Sunday. “They took it upon themselves to go to Qatada’s legal team and say, “You haven’t appealed yet. Are you likely to appeal?” said one Home Office official.

“It’s extraordinary that they decided to alert his team that the appeal deadline was coming up. But they did not bother to remind us.”

The Home Secretary Theresa May thought the deadline for Qatada’s appeal fell at midnight on Monday. The following day, believing the European court legal case was over, she had the radical cleric arrested and brought before a deportation court to restart proceedings to have him sent back to his native Jordan.

Qatada’s appeal, lodged just before midnight on Tuesday, means the deportation process could now take years. The Observer points out that the ECHR could take up to three months to decide whether the case should be referred to its Grand Chamber. If it is, deliberations could take a further 12-18 months. In the meantime, Qatada’s lawyers will argue their client should be released on bail from the high security unit at Belmarsh prison where he is being held.

It is a far cry from the scene last Tuesday, after Qatada had been arrested, when May stood up in Parliament to tell MPs that she had received the necessary assurances from the Jordanian government that the cleric would not be put on trial using evidence extracted under torture. At the time she warned the process of deportation would take time – although even she probably didn’t expect it to take this long.

May now stands accused of incompetence over the Abu Qatada affair, with MPs accusing her of presiding over a “farce”.

Both the British head of the ECHR, Sir Nicolas Bratza, and May have declined to comment on the claims that Qatada was prompted to appeal, but the cleric’s lawyer Gareth Peirce has denied there was any contact.

However, Conservative MPs have been quick to express their outrage.

Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the Tories’ backbench 1922 Committee, told the Mail on Sunday: “If it is the case that the ECHR alerted Qatada he could still appeal, it is disgraceful. It would amount to a partisan interference suggesting that the ECHR’s sympathies lie with Abu Qatada - not with the British people.

“It really does demonstrate what a morally bankrupt outfit this court is.”

Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, said, if true, the ECHR’s actions were “extraordinary”, adding they would “bring into question the court’s neutrality and independence”. He demanded a detailed explanation of what happened. · 

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The last time I used a lawyer he charged me several hundred pounds an hour. Who on earth is paying the legal bills here? Qatada must have been doing very nicely to afford the fees.

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