Commentators have been quick to denounce the Home Secretary Theresa May following the aquittal of Abu Qatada on terrorism charges in Jordan.
Media silk John Cooper was one of them, asking on Twitter: “Will Theresa “3 Silk” May comment on the millions of taxpayers money spent to extradite Qatada on evidence now rejected by the court?”
Will Theresa "3 Silk" May comment on the millions of taxpayers money spent to extradite Qatada on evidence now rejected by the Court?
— John Cooper (@John_Cooper_QC) September 24, 2014
Former soldier and author Inspector Gadget said “Flagship extradition, Abu Qatada, ‘not guilty’ of terrorism in Jordan. Will be be back, on UK benefits, to complete Theresa May humiliation”?
There are many more Tweets questioning the cost of extraditing Abu Qatada and of keeping him incarcerated while the legal battles swung between the domestic courts here in the UK and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Theresa May’s argument all along – and that of her Labour predecessor Yvettte Cooper – has been that Abu Qatada was wanted – and, indeed, had been convicted in his absence – of serious terrorism charges and that he should be extradited to Jordan to face those charges; and that he would have a fair trial when he got there.
Those criticising Theresa May (and, by implication, Yvette Cooper, who started the fight to extradite Qatada before the last General Election); miss the point: He was wanted in Jordan, not in Britain. Jordan had the evidence to prosecute, not Britain. Jordan had the territorial jurisdiction, not Britain.
The rule of law required Abu Qatada to be extradited to Jordan to face the charges. He argued that he would not receive a fair trial; that evidence against him was obtained by torture; that he himself would be tortured; and that he would, in effect, be locked up and never seen again.
The process leading to his extradition – lengthy as it was – has led to changes in the Jordanian justice system; and agreements between Jordan and Britain over the admissibility of evidence obtained through torture. But, most of all, it has resulted in Abu Qatada being tried and being found not guilty of those charges.
Being found not guilty is an option open to the courts when hearing a case. If it were not, then the trial would not be fair. That Abu Qatada was found not guilty is testament to the fairness of the Jordanian justice system.
I don’t know what the evidence against Qatada was; nor do I know what defence, if any, he offered. The British media didn’t cover the hearings with anything like even a fraction of the attention they gave, for example, to the Oscar Pistorius trial; and I suspect that they probably had much less access to the court’s proceedings than they would have had when reporting a trial in Britain.
But I do know this: the vast majority of those criticising Theresa May and Yvette Cooper for the cost and time spent extraditing Abu Qatada are likely to have been equally – if not more – critical if either of them had given up the fight. It was Qatada and his lawyers, not the British politicianss, who dragged out the process.
People who are wanted on terrorism charges abroad – wherever that may be – should not find safe haven in the UK. They should – with appropriate safeguards – be extradited to answer the charges. Abu Qatada, eventually, has done that and the case against him was not proved. That is the way justice systems work.
And for all those complaining that he has been found not guilty, think on this: if a guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion or a pre-determined outcome, then he would not have received a fair trial and he would have been right to fight his extradition. That it was an option open to the court means that the British and Jordanian governments were right: that Qatada would receive a fair trial, that he should be extradited, and that he should face the charges.
He has now done that.