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Abu Qatada

Volume 543: debated on Thursday 19 April 2012

Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights informed the Government that late on Tuesday evening, Abu Qatada applied for a referral of the judgment in his case to the Court’s Grand Chamber. He did so on the grounds that he would be at risk of torture if he returned to Jordan. The British courts and the European Court itself have already found that, because of the assurances we have received from the Jordanian Government, there is no such risk.

The Government are clear that Abu Qatada has no right to refer the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, since the three-month deadline to do so lapsed at midnight on Monday.

Article 43 of the European Convention on Human Rights explains that a request for referral to the Grand Chamber must be made

“within a period of three months from the date of the judgment of the Chamber”.

The letter that communicated the European Court’s judgment, dated 17 January, confirmed this, saying

“any request for the referral of this judgment to the Grand Chamber must be duly reasoned and reach the registry within three months of today’s date”.

Therefore the deadline was midnight, Monday 16 April.

Because the European Court has no automatic mechanism to rule out an application for a referral based on the deadline, Abu Qatada’s application will be considered by a panel of five judges from the Grand Chamber. They will take into account the deadline, as set out in article 43 of the convention, as part of their consideration. The Government have written to the European Court to make clear our case that the application should be rejected because it is out of time.

Instead, the Government believe that the case should be heard in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Court (SIAC), as I outlined in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Until the panel of the Grand Chamber makes its decision, however, a rule 39 injunction preventing the deportation of Abu Qatada remains in place. This means that the deportation process and any potential SIAC appeal is put on hold, but we will resume the process as soon as the injunction is lifted. In the meantime, we will continue to build our case, based on the assurances and information we have received from the Jordanian Government. Abu Qatada remains in detention, and the Government will resist vigorously any application he might make to be released on bail.

As I said in the House of Commons on Tuesday, despite the progress we have made, the process of deporting Abu Qatada is likely to take many months. That he has sought to delay that process by applying for a referral to the Grand Chamber after the deadline had passed and after he had heard our case in SIAC is evidence of the strength of our arguments and the likelihood of our eventual success in removing him from Britain for good.