19 Apr 2012

Qatada – what a difference a day makes


Theresa May has just tried to make the best of a bad job in the Commons – dragged back to answer questions about a new deportation process she launched on Tuesday, only to see it stuck on the dockyard slips.

On the crux of the immediate challenge, did the Home Office get the appeal window dates wrong? The Home Secretary still says no. But she repeatedly ducked Labour MPs’ questions about whether she had over-ruled internal advice on the deadline. There’s an interesting take on all this by a legal expert with government and European experience here. One Tory MP sitting behind Theresa May texted from the chamber that she was safe for now but if she’s got it wrong “a lot” of Tory MPs think she “may have to fall on her sword.”

All of that will depend on how many own goals have been scored over the date. Has Qatada been given grounds to claim the commencement of deportation on Tuesday was in breach of an ECHR Rule 39 and therefore potentially illegal? Or has he more plausibly simply been given another legal avenue and another source of delay.

The saga has only fuelled Tory backbench anger about the ECHR. One even asked Theresa May if she’d give “two-fingers” to the ECHR. Several spoke to a similar agenda and not one of them will be remotely happy with whatever progress Ken Clarke claims out of this week’s Brighton gathering.

6.30pm update:

Looking at Council of Europe documents (here http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Reports/Html/076.htm) you can read article 4 paragraph 27 of the European Convention on Time Directives seems to be a bit of thwack to the Home Office solar plexus. Here’s what it says about how you calculate dates in reference to justice and other issues: 


A time-limit of one month:

– starting on 5 January, expires on 5 February; starting on 30 April, expires on 30 May (not on the last day of May);
– starting on either 30 May or 31 May, expires on 30 June;
– starting on 31 January expires on 28 or 29 February depending on whether it is a leap year or not.”

That’s not how the home office calculated it. They said that a three month deadline after a January 17 decision expired on the night of April 16. The quotation above suggests they have got it badly wrong.

FCO lawyers often do the ECHR stuff so maybe there wasn’t the experience in the home office to deal with this. Abu Qatada’s lawyers may not have been aware of the mistake the government had made until they heard discussions about it in SIAC on Tuesday.

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