Victoria Brittain, ‘The Abu Qatada Ruling: An Important Exception’

Pluto author Victoria Brittain (Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror) has written a brilliant and compelling piece in Cage Prisoners this week after the decision by Mr Justice Mitting to refuse the deportation to Jordan of Omar Othman (Abu Qatada), in spite of persistent government pressure.

We’ve reproduced an extract of the article below, but to read the whole thing go to

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Mr Justice Mitting’s decision today refusing the deportation to Jordan of Omar Othman, popularly known as Abu Qatada, is a significant victory for the British legal system over government pressure. His barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC at once asked for bail, “there is no justification for continuing to deprive Mr Othman of his liberty. Enough is enough, it has gone on for many years now.”

But the future arrangements for Mr Othman’s life in Britain are complex and uncertain with regard to bail and conditions. The extraordinary politicisation of this case, and the government’s investment in winning was underlined when the Home Office immediately announced they would seek leave to appeal. However, this was refused by the court – the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).

This long saga has displayed all the worst elements of the political, legal and social context post 9/11 Britain for refugees, for Muslims, and for those tagged by the security services as related to terrorism.

Secret evidence has been at the heart of Mr Othman’s arrest in 2002, the frequent refusals of bail, two revocations of bail after just a few months when it was finally granted with a restricted regime of 22 hour curfew, electronic tagging, less than a handful of visitors cleared by the Home Office to visit the house, and then only singly. For the best part of a decade he has been incarcerated in a small unit with other Muslim men whom Britain wanted deported or extradited, and where some were driven into full mental illness by the uncertainties of their long prison ordeal, when they had no accusations of any crimes committed in this country. Judge Mitting earlier described the years Mr Othman has been in UK prisons as “extraordinary,” and spoke of a “lamentable” period of time resolving the case.

Mr Othman is a Palestinian who previously lived in Jordan, where he suffered serious torture before. Years later, after he had left the country, Jordan named him in connection with terrorist bombing plots. The evidence against him was obtained by torture. He was tried in a military court in absentia and convicted, twice, and sentenced to life imprisonment. His co-defendants complained, with evidence, of their torture during their trials years ago. A witness who gave evidence that exonerated the co-defendants in the first trial has been executed.

On these grounds successive British courts found against successive Home Secretaries’ decisions to deport him, before the law lords decided in 2009 that he could after all be deported. The European Court of Human Rights in January this year ruled, to the dismay of the coalition government, that the likely use of evidence obtained by torture meant he should not face trial in Jordan.

A hysterical and xenophobic campaign against Mr Othman was then conducted by the Home Secretary personally, and publicly backed by previous ones. Everyone from the Mayor of London to the most obscure of MPs felt they could gain some cheap popularity points by talking about the threat Britons faced by Abu Qatada living a normal life in London.

Mrs May restarted the deportation proceedings that ended today, after receiving some assurances from Jordan on the torture evidence issue which she believed would persuade SIAC he could indeed be deported. She even visited Jordan herself to push her demands. However, in the two week trial a contradiction between two Jordanian witnesses left Mr Justice Mitting and his two senior colleagues without the certainty they sought that there was not a “real risk” of Mr Othman facing a trial based on just such evidence tainted by torture. The Home Office said today they strongly disagreed with the judgement, and that they had received assurances “not just in relation to the treatment of Qatada himself but about the quality of the legal processes that would be followed throughout his trial.” In the face of such a serious setback Mrs May is unlikely to leave it there.

To Read the rest of the article click here.

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