Abu Qatada: UK court recognises real risk of torture-tainted evidence being used in court

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In the latest ruling on the plan to deport Abu Qatada from the UK to face trial in Jordan, a British court has determined that diplomatic assurances provided by the Jordanian authorities are not sufficient to protect the radical Muslim cleric’s fundamental human rights.

Abu Qatada was granted asylum in the United Kingdom after entering the country on a false passport in 1993. He was later sentenced in absentia in Jordan for terrorist-related offences to life imprisonment with hard labour. Qatada has been considered as a threat to British national security for many years, and the British government has attempted to deport him several times. The question that now faced the court was whether he may be extradited to Jordan on the basis of diplomatic assurances by Jordan which guaranteed his security, but only offered limited assurances that the prosecution on his return would be fair.

This latest decision has been met with disappointment in the British press, who repeat that Abu Qatada is a threat to national security and must be deported.

However, universal human rights protect all persons from abuse. If rights including the absolute prohibition on torture and the guarantee to a fair trial are to mean anything, they must apply to everyone. Though Abu Qatada could well be as dangerous as presented in popular rhetoric, he must still be protected by a fair process of law which rigorously protects his fundamental human rights.

It is therefore welcomed that the UK Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled that Abu Qatada must not be extradited unless and until he is guaranteed a fair trial in Jordan. The court accepted that there were real risks that evidence would be presented during his trial in Jordan which had been obtained by torture.

Torture is one of the most serious international crimes and is absolutely prohibited without exception. This prohibition also inherently requires that no-one may be deported to another country to face torture and that any criminal prosecution must exclude all evidence obtained by torture. Such torture-tainted evidence is inherently unreliable, and its use is a flagrant denial of justice.

SIAC v Mohammed Othman (Abu Qatada), SC/15/2005, 12 November 2012, available here.

This case is reviewed in the APT special focus on the exclusion of evidence obtained by torture, guide to jurisprudence.

Opinion piece on the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in the Abu Qatada v. UK case, by Manfred Nowak, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in APT’s MENA e-bulletin 1/2012.