Abu Qatada would not necessarily be on my list of favourite dinner invitees. I’m only guessing, but I suspect his conversation may well be quite one-dimensional. Of course, his curfew would make it impossible, unless we made it Sunday lunch. In any event, I’d probably get more out of an evening with his lawyers.
That may be a little unfair, though, as he might well turn out to be an engaging and interesting conversationalist. I could, perhaps, invite him to discuss all of the criminal offences he is alleged to have committed whilst in the UK. Sadly, that wouldn’t take too long because neither he nor I have any idea what offences, if any, he could be charged with here.
The problem the government has with Qatada is that the country it wants to deport him to, Jordan, has a serious history of torture. In particular, the conviction of Qatada (in his absence} was obtained using the confessions of his tortured co-defendants. We have rather a fabulous principle in this country – confessions through torture are inadmissible as evidence. We also signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, which also has something to say about torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. Perhaps the Home Secretary might make better decisions if she were to bear these things in mind.
Of course, actions speak louder than words, as the cliché goes. Our own relationship to regimes that use torture is far from simple; the government’s complicity with the policy of ‘extraordinary rendition’ shows this. So perhaps it should not be surprising that the main bone of contention for many Tories is the human rights issue itself.
There have been countless calls, from backbenchers and ministers, for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped because it is not achieving its objective. For those politicians, presumably, its objective is to protect the human rights of individuals only provided it doesn’t interfere with the government’s agenda.
In effect, the main thing the Human Rights Act 1998 does is to enable the British public to make claims based on the European Convention on Human Rights in British courts rather than having to go to the time, trouble and expense of making an application to the European Court of Human Rights. The actual ‘rights’ that are protected stem from the Convention, which has nothing to do with the EU and dates from 1951, and not from the modern act of parliament.
In essence, the Convention seeks to protect the rights of individuals against the power of the state and the Act makes it easier to seek that protection for the ‘person in the street’. No wonder politicians do not like the combined effect. Whenever you hear a politician complain about the Human Rights Act, bear in mind that what they are really saying is they fear the power of the individual interfering with the power of the state.