Leaders: Abu Qatada case a legal nonsense defying all justice and sense

IT IS a fundamental principle of a civilised society that all are equal in the eyes of the law. Such a precept marks this country out from others where the legal system is either non-existent or heavily influenced by those who hold power.

There are, however, times when this noble principle conflicts with what ordinary people believe to be just. The case of terrorist suspect, Abu Qatada, perfectly illustrates this disconnect between the law and the people.

Last night a Special Immigration Appeals Commission judge ruled that the man described as Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe will remain in high security prison without bail ahead of his deportation appeal. The judge ruled that allowing him to be free in London would be “exceptionally problematic” during increased security which is necessary during the Olympic Games, a common sense decision which few, barring Abu Qatada’s lawyers, will dispute.

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Although the decision confounded predictions that the so-called cleric might be freed while he fights deportation to Jordan over terror charges, this latest development will do little to encourage public confidence in the legal system.

The facts, briefly, are these. Successive British governments have been trying to get rid of this man for the last ten years. He is judged to be an extreme danger to society and has stirred up hatred against the British state and British people. Yet repeated failed attempts by UK governments over the last decade years to deport the cleric have cost nearly £1 million in legal fees. Some estimates put the total cost of keeping him in the UK, including an unknown amount of legal aid, at more than £3 million.

Now, after this latest judgment, it appears these attempts will continue and it will be months before the Home Secretary Theresa May can again attempt to send him back to his home country of Jordan with the decision due to be taken by a deportation appeal hearing in October. Last night’s ruling is a further, though not unexpected, setback for the government which failed to deport Abu Qatada earlier this month after getting its dates wrong in legal documents.

Yet despite his final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights – in which he argued he might be tortured in Jordan – being turned down, we can still not be sure Abu Qatada will leave these shores in five months time.

This state of affairs is clearly a legal nonsense, a situation in which the law is an ass in the eyes of the law-abiding majority and, furthermore, politicians seem powerless to do anything to rectify the situation.

If the law is the reasonable and settled will of the people, and decided by their lawfully- elected representatives in parliament, then what is just and proper is that this man is deported immediately. The people of Britain should have their rights upheld.

Media relations must be clear

IF FURTHER proof were needed of Tony Blair’s skill in answering for his actions as prime minister while avoiding incriminating himself, it was on display at the Leveson inquiry.

Mr Blair admitted that at times the relationship between the media and politicians was “unhealthy” but said he avoided confrontation with powerful newspapers as it would have detracted from his government’s policy goals. He conceded some reservations about relations with media organisations but denied decisions were changed as a result of these links, with Rupert Murdoch’s News International for example. It was a masterful appearance by one lawyer in front of other lawyers.

Few observers will sympathise with Mr Blair undergoing another public grilling under oath – following the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly and the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war – but these appearances raise serious questions about the way government is conducted.Previous prime ministers were able to take often momentous decisions safe in the knowledge their correspondence, advice and the evidence they studied would remain confidential for at least three decades.

It might be argued that the likelihood their actions will be exposed to public inquiry may make prime ministers reluctant to take very difficult decisions which pose significant moral and ethical questions.

Such a traditional view may have applied to the post-War period but it no longer holds. Knowing that their modus operandi, including relations with the media, may be dissected in public can only make politicians govern in a more transparent, truly democratic way.