Thanks to a ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), the man once described as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe is expected to be freed from Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, after the government failed to have him extradited to Jordan to face terrorism charges.
Abu Qatada, described yesterday by the Home Secretary as a dangerous man and suspected terrorist, will be under a curfew, have to wear a tag and be stopped from contact with certain individuals, but he will, albeit in a limited way, have his freedom.
Given the nature of the allegations against Qatada, who both Labour and Conservative governments have been trying to force out of the country for more than a decade, this state of affairs is clearly unacceptable and will be viewed with incredulity by a public which may not know the details of the finer points of law, but knows a lot about common sense.
What has brought this about? In the case of this latest ruling in this long-drawn-out case, it came down to the judge in the appeals commission believing that when he came to trial, evidence obtained using torture would be used against Qatada. Sending him to Jordan would in that case, be against the human rights principles established by the European Court of Human Rights.
What is troubling is that the appeals commission judge came to this conclusion despite assurances from the Jordanian government, obtained by the Home Secretary, that Qatada would be given a fair trial and evidence obtained under torture would not be used against him.
This is not the first time that the European Court has had a profound influence on UK law. It is unlikely to be the last. The court, which is not part of the European Union, was set up more than 50 years ago with the noble aim of guaranteeing human rights across the continent. Few would disagree with such an aim.
However, the problem comes when the application of the human rights conventions in this country clearly conflicts with the right of the government to enforce the law for the greater good of all the citizens of the UK. The British people have, to put it bluntly, a human right not to live in fear of terrorism fomented by Qatada.
While the government made mistakes in this case, that does not detract from the central principle, which is that Westminster – while cherishing human rights – must be able to act in the interest of the people of this country. In this case, the interests of the people are clear: ridding us of this dangerous man. If the European Court does not recognise this, it is hard to avoid concluding it is time the human rights conventions were redrawn to recognise the rights of the many over those of an individual, or individuals, who would, by words if not actions, deprive us of our human right to live in peace and security.
Grim irony in Entwistle pay-off
A CLOSE look at the letter written by Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, to the chairman of the Commons media committee setting out why former Director-General George Entwistle was given a £450,000 pay off contains a rich irony. At the bottom of the first page a rubric appears, setting out the trust’s task as “Getting the best out of the BBC for licence fee payers”. Such a declaration would be laughable were this not such a serious matter.
Under his contract, Mr Entwistle was entitled to six months’ salary in lieu of notice if he resigned, a sum of £225,000. Lord Patten’s explanation for the larger payment is that if the trust had terminated Mr Entwistle’s contract he would have been entitled to a year’s salary, £450,000. As it needed his co-operation in the inquiries into the Jimmy Savile affair, he was paid the larger figure for a “consensual resignation”.
Such a tortuous explanation shows just how far removed from public opinion Lord Patten is. To ordinary people, £450,000 is an enormous sum and given it is clear Mr Entwistle was not up to the job, the pay-off looks like a reward for failure. The trust didn’t have to give him it. He resigned.
Until the payment details were released, Lord Patten was seen to be handling the crisis as well as could have been expected. By sanctioning this payment, he has lost any remaining public support for the Corporation. He has failed under his own terms to get the best out of the BBC for licence payers. If he is to restore trust in the trust, and the BBC, there will have to be a rethink. Either the trust should renegotiate the pay-off or Mr Entwistle, if he is an honourable man, should refuse to take such a large sum from the licence fee payers.