The Guardian reports that Prime Minister Cameron is considering denouncing the ECHR on a temporary basis in order to facilitate the deportation of Abu Qatada. As tennis legend John McEnroe might have put it ‘you cannot be serious!’ In order to remove one man from the jurisdiction the government is contemplating removing the protection of human rights for all. One suspects that this announcement by Downing Street was little more than ‘dog-whistle’ politics with the local elections looming next week. But what if the government is really serious? Two quick thoughts come to mind.
Firstly, the UK is on the face of it able to denounce the ECHR under the terms of Article 58, though see below. But even after a denunciation the ECHR will remain fully applicable for six months. Presumably the government would wait for the six months to expire. It would then seek within domestic law to remove Qatada. As this would also require the suspension or repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 this would require an Act of Parliament. No doubt a political and constitutional storm would break as a result. This would of course not be the end of the matter because the decision would be judicially reviewable, no doubt under an enhanced form of anxious scrutiny. How further forth would the government be then?
Abdi v United Kingdom (application no. 27770/08) 9 April 2013 - read judgment
The Strasbourg Court has ruled that a Somali national’s detention pending deportation was not lawful under domestic law.
The following summary is based on the Court’s press release:
The applicant, Mustafa Abdi, is a Somali national who is currently detained in HMP Brixton. Mr Abdi arrived in the United Kingdom on 7 May 1995 and, although refused asylum, was granted exceptional leave to remain in the United Kingdom until February 2000. On 23 July 1998 he was convicted of a number of offences, including rape, and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. On 20 May 2002 the Secretary of State for the Home Department ordered Mr Abdi’s deportation and on 27 May 2002 he issued an authority for detention until the making of a deportation order. On 3 September 2003 Mr Abdi’s release became automatic; however he remained in detention on the basis of the authority issued on 27 May 2002. On 5 April 2004 the Secretary of State for the Home Department authorised Mr Abdi’s detention until his deportation. Continue reading
J1 v Secretary of State for the Home Department, 27 March 2013 – read judgment
A UKHRB editor, Angus McCullough QC, was a Special Advocate for J1 before the Court of Appeal, but not in SIAC below. He had nothing to do with the writing of this post
Hot on the Home Secretary’s loss of the Abu Qatada appeal, a reverse for her in another deportation case about someone whom the Court of Appeal described as “an important and significant member of a group of Islamist extremists in the UK,” and who was said to have links – direct or indirect – with men involved in the failed July 21 2005 bombing plot.
The general contours of the case will be familiar to Abu Qatada watchers, with claims under Articles 3 and 6 of the ECHR amongst others – that if J1 was returned to his country of origin (here, Ethiopia), his human rights would not be respected. There are however a number of interesting features about this decision of the Court of Appeal; firstly, it reversed a decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against J1 on Article 3 (recall the heightened regard for SIAC as a specialist tribunal in the Abu Qatada appeal) , and secondly (in dismissing the Article 6 claim) it illustrates graphically some of the dilemmas facing Special Advocates when representing their clients in the imperfect world of “closed procedures” (a.k.a secret trials).
Othman (aka Abu Qatada) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 277 – read judgment
The Home Office last night assured its 70,000 Twitter followers that “it is not the end of the road”. Yet by the time she had reached page 17 of the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of her latest attempt to deport Abu Qatada, it might well have seemed that way to Theresa May.
In November, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled that Qatada could not be deported to face a retrial for alleged terrorism offences due to the real risk of “a flagrant denial of justice”. Read my post on that decision here. Yesterday, Lord Dyson – the Masters of the Rolls and second most senior judge in England and Wales – together with Lord Justices Richards and Elias, rejected the Home Secretary’s appeal.
Sir John Donaldson (National Portrait Gallery)
Another title for this post might have been “they did not want to understand the judgment.”
In light of recent shenanigans, it seems apt to reproduce the first five paragraphs of the 25-year-old Court of Appeal judgment in (1) Nadarajah Vilvarajah, (2) Vaithialingham Skandarajah v Secretary of State For the Home Department 1990 WL 754859 (Update - download from BAILII here), which I was alerted to by a colleague. Sir John Donaldson, then Master of the Rolls, complains in withering style about media coverage of a recent judgment. The last line is the best, although a little depressing.
Lessons learned? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Political posturing over immigration and asylum law long predated the Human Rights Act. And Law in Action was as good then as it is now.
Here is a taster:
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, is no stranger to ill-founded outbursts concerning the evils of human rights. Against that background, her recent article in the Mail on Sunday (to which Adam Wager has already drawn attention) does not disappoint. May’s ire is drawn by certain recent judicial decisions in which the deportation of foreign criminals has been ruled unlawful on the ground that it would breach their right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Some of these judgments, May contends, flout instructions issued to judges by Parliament about how such cases should be decided.
Those instructions consist of new provisions inserted last year into the Immigration Rules, the intended effect of which was to make it much harder for foreign criminals to resist deportation on Article 8 grounds. The Rules – made by the executive and endorsed by Parliament, but not contained in primary legislation – provide that, where certain criteria are met, “it will only be in exceptional circumstances that the public interest in deportation will be outweighed by other factors”. The assumption appeared to be that this would prevent judges – absent exceptional circumstances – from performing their normal function of determining whether deportation would be a disproportionate interference with the Article 8 right.
The Home Secretary has launched a major attack on immigration judges in today’s Mail on Sunday, in language which even the Mail says is “highly emotive”. She finds it “depressing” that judges are consistently refusing to allow deportation of foreign criminals in “defiance of Parliament’s wishes”.
We will cover the issue in more detail by way of a guest post tomorrow, and you can read our analysis of the rulings which have caused her such annoyance but first I thought I would share a few thoughts.