ABU Qatada’s deportation is in the hands of the British courts after the Jordanian terror suspect lost his attempt to make a final appeal to Europe’s human rights judges.
The radical cleric’s lawyers immediately applied for him to be released on bail as it looked likely that deportation proceedings will still take many months.
But Home Secretary Theresa May had a narrow escape.
While they rejected the case, the panel of five judges also ruled that Qatada’s appeal on the night of 17 April was within the court’s deadline.
The decision means Mrs May was wrong when she claimed the three-month appeal deadline from the court’s original decision on 17 January expired on the night of 16 April, but the mistake, while deeply embarrassing to the Home Secretary, will have no serious repercussions.
As is usual, no reasons were given for the panel’s refusal to allow the case to be heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg. Lawyers for Qatada, described by a judge as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, also applied to a senior immigration judge at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission for a fresh bail hearing, but no date has yet been set.
Mrs May said: “It has always been the government’s intention that the Qatada case should be heard in the British courts, so I am pleased by the European Court’s decision today.
“I remain confident that the assurances I have secured from the Jordanian government mean we will be able to put Qatada on a plane and get him out of Britain for good.
“His case will now go through the British courts.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “It is shocking that the court has confirmed the Home Secretary got the date wrong and took an unacceptable risk with this serious case.
“We are all very lucky that the Home Secretary’s major mistake has not led to Qatada’s application for appeal being granted.
“Now is the time for Theresa May to apologise for such a potentially catastrophic error of judgment and answer questions as to what led her to make this mistake and why she was adamant she was right.”
Mrs May is now likely to refuse any application by Qatada’s lawyers to revoke his deportation order, but it is still likely to be “many months” before he is put on a plane home.
Qatada’s legal team was challenging the court’s decision that the 51-year-old could be sent back to Jordan with diplomatic assurances that he would not be tortured.
No figures have been given for how much Qatada has received in legal aid and some estimates put the cost of keeping Qatada in the UK, either in a high- security jail or closely monitored under strict conditions in the community, along with the legal costs of the fight to deport him, at more than £3 million.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are obviously very pleased with the decision. It means that the case will now be heard in a British court and it is clearly our intention still to deport this man.”
Asked whether David Cameron was embarrassed at the court’s finding that the government got the appeal deadline wrong, the spokesman said: “We had consistent legal advice which did not change.”