The home secretary, Theresa May, faces a lengthy legal battle to overturn this week's ruling by British judges that the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada should not be sent back to Jordan to face trial.
The terror suspect was driven back to his north-west London home on Tuesday after being released from Long Lartin top security prison in Worcestershire to face a 16-hour curfew enforced between 4pm and 8am by an electronic tag and strict restrictions on where he can go and who he can meet.
The detailed bail conditions finalised on Tuesday include a ban on the use of any mobile phone or access to the internet; a ban on leading prayers or preaching or attending any mosque. He has to surrender his passport within 24 hours and may not travel out of a prescribed area including using the tube, trains or a car. He is allowed to work and may undertake a prescribed training or study course but only with the approval of the home secretary.
Abu Qatada was accompanied by UK Border Agency officers as he was driven to his nondescript surburban home where he will live with his wife and four out of five children. A small group of protesters greeted his arrival by shouting: "get him out". This is the fourth time that Abu Qatada has been released over the past 10 years. A panic alarm was installed before he was briefly released earlier this year in case of vigilante attacks.
The Legal Services Commission says that just over £825,000 has been spent on legal aid in the Abu Qatada case. Assets belonging to the preacher worth £217,286 have been frozen to be used towards the final legal bill.
Abu Qatada was first detained in Britain as an international terror suspect in 2002 and has been fighting his deportation for seven years. Earlier this year, May travelled to Jordan and secured assurances that he would not face a trial for bomb plot offences dating back to 1998 on evidence obtained by torture. But the he special immigration appeals commission (Siac) ruled on Monday that, despite the assurances, there remained a real risk that torture-based evidence would be used against him.
The cleric was once described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden's righthand man in Europe and is still regarded by the security services as having wide and high-level support among Islamist extremists.
The home secretary is making preparations to put fresh pressure on the Jordanian authorities to strengthen their assurances that Abu Qatada will face a fair trial if he is sent back.
The issue is to be raised by David Cameron during King Abdullah of Jordan's visit to London next week. "I am completely fed up with the fact that this man is still at large in our country. He has no right to be there, we believe he is a threat to our country," said the prime minister during a visit to Rome.
"We have moved heaven and earth to try to comply with every single dot and comma of every single convention to get him out of our country. It is extremely frustrating."
The Jordanian minister of justice, Ghaleb Zu'bi, said Abu Qatada would receive a fair trial but added that his country was "ready to work with the British authorities on future steps" regarding his trial. Siac said it wanted to see Jordan's code on criminal procedure amended and an obligation placed on the prosecutor in the state security court to demonstrate that the evidence had not been obtained by torture.
The Judicial Communications Office confirmed that the home secretary has 21 days from the date of the ruling by Siac to lodge and appeal.
An appeal court judge will then consider whether or not the home secretary has a case on the basis of her written submissions. If the judge rejects her appeal she can request an oral hearing in front of three appeal court judges to review the decision. This process is likely to last until well into the new year.
If the court of appeal turns down the home secretary, Abu Qatada's lawyers are likely to apply for his stringent bail conditions to be lifted. The home secretary will then be faced with the option of whether or not to impose a terrorism prevention and investigation measures order (Tpim) – called a "control order lite" by some critics – on the basis that he is an international terror suspect. The Tpim can last a maximum of two years, which could mean Abu Qatada walking free on the streets of London just before the next general election.
Abu Qatada's solicitor, Gareth Peirce, has welcomed the Siac ruling, saying: "It is important to reaffirm this country's position that we abhor the use of torture and a case that was predicated upon evidence from witnesses who have been tortured is rejected – rejected by the courts of this country as by the European court of human rights," she said.
"We clearly agree with the decision, but it is important to emphasise the fundamental rules of law that we subscribe to. To that extent, it is important for other cases, not just for this case."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © C.P.Storm
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