10 May 2013

Abu Qatada will leave UK ‘voluntarily’ after treaty

Radical cleric Abu Qatada promises to leave Britain when a new treaty offering guarantees that evidence obtained through torture will not be used against him becomes law, says his lawyer.

An immigration tribuna, which will decide whether Qatada can be released from prison, heard that the terror suspect will “voluntarily” return to Jordan once the treaty becomes law.

Home Secretary Theresa May announced the proposed treaty between Britain and Jordan last month in the House of Commons, as a solution to finally being able to deport Abu Qatada from Britain.

Qatada will have to wait to find out if he can be released from Belmarsh prison, after Mr Justice Irwin at the special immigration appeals commission (Siac) adjourned his bail application to 20 May.

The government has been trying to deport Qatada to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999, for nearly eight years.

Immigration judges decided last year that Qatada, also known by another surname, Othman, could not be deported over fears that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him when he returned to Jordan.

Read more: Could the UK leave human rights treaty over Qatada?

Qatada will ‘voluntarily’ return

Edward Fitzgerald QC, who was representing the radical cleric at the bail hearing, told the tribunal: “There has been a development in the form of a treaty signed on 24 March.

“That treaty is clearly designed to meet the requirements laid down by Mr Justice Mitting as to evidence admissible at a retrial, if there is a retrial. If and when the Jordanian parliament ratifies the treaty, Mr Othman will voluntarily return to Jordan.”

Mr Fitzgerald QC said Qatada’s vow to return removed any risk that he would abscond if released on bail.

He has made it known that he would be willing to discuss returning to Jordan providing conditions could be discussed. Abu Qatada’s lawyer

He added: “There’s never been a time in the last 12 years that Mr Othman and his family could safely return to Jordan.

“For a long period of time, he has made it clear that he wishes to leave lawfully. He has made it known that he would be willing to discuss returning to Jordan providing conditions could be discussed.”

Mr Fitzgerald said: “Why would he make himself lawless and subject to arrest when he has said that the right thing to do is to go back to Jordan once the assurances are given?”

Robin Tam QC, appearing for the home secretary, said the treaty would be laid before the Jordanian parliament in the next few weeks, while the UK side of the process should be completed by late June.

Mr Justice Irwin asked Mr Tam to provide evidence of the process in the UK and Jordan in bringing the treaty into force.

He added: “Not merely when it has been ratified but when it’s in force.”