Othman(Abu Qatada) v. The United Kingdom ECHR 2012
Facts• Othman – Radical muslim cleric, lived in the UK since 1993, having fled Jordan and gone to Pakistan• Made successful application for asylum• Had been detained and tortured in 1988 and 1990-1991 by Jordanian authorities : Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate (GID) – Detained and placed under house arrest on two further occasions – Recognised as a refugee in 1994 and granted leave to remain until 1998
• 1999- the applicant was convicted in absentia in Jordan of conspiracy to cause explosions, in a trial known as the “reform and challenge” case. – successful attacks on the American School and the Jerusalem Hotel in Amman in 1998• As a result of the applicant’s conviction in this trial, the Jordanian authorities requested the applicant’s extradition from the United Kingdom.• In early 2000, the request was withdrawn by Jordan.
• In the autumn of 2000 the applicant was again tried in absentia in Jordan, this time in a case known as the “millennium conspiracy”: – concerned a conspiracy to cause explosions at western and Israeli targets in Jordan to coincide with the millennium celebrations. – uncovered before the attacks could be carried out• 2001- United Kingdom Government was advised that Article 3 of the ECHR precluded the deportation of terrorist suspects to Jordan
• 2002- taken into detention under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (A and Others v United Kingdom)• 2003- Idea of framework memorandum of understanding with Jordanian Government was raised – to provide the appropriate assurances to guarantee that potential deportees would be treated in a manner consistent with the United Kingdom’s obligations• 2005- subject to control order under Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005• 2005 - The day after the MOU was signed, the Secretary of State served the applicant with the notice of intention to deport.
• The Secretary of State certified that the decision to deport the applicant was taken in the interests of national security.• SIAC considered the Secretary of State’s case to be well proved since the applicant was regarded by many terrorists as a spiritual adviser whose views legitimised acts of violence.• Questioning by the United States was not forbidden by the MOU – United States Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) would be allowed to question the applicant directly with the GID present. – However, the United Kingdom would have made clear to the United States its interests in ensuring that the MOU was not breached. (really?)
Main Issues• Article 3 ECHR – “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”• Government’s submission – SIAC had found that the assurances given by Jordan in the present case would suffice because: – (i) Jordan was willing and able to fulfill its undertakings; • MOUs worked in practice between states; they were a well established and much used tool of international relations • (Chahal v. the United Kingdom) -reliance could lawfully be placed on assurances
• (ii) the applicant would be protected by his high profile – Any ill treatment would cause considerable outcry and would be destabilising for the Jordanian Government• (iii) there would be monitoring by the Adaleh Centre. – would have a positive effect in reducing the risk of ill treatment.
• Applicant’s submission – once a particular risk was shown to apply to an individual, assurances would not be sufficient, especially when torture was also shown to be systemic in the country of destination. – Jordanian prisons were beyond the rule of law. – Torture was endemic, particularly for GID prisons and Islamist prisoners, who were frequently beaten. – his high profile would not protect him but would in fact place him at greater risk
• Jordan’s reluctance to meet its international human rights obligations. – it had refused to ratify either Article 22 to UNCAT (the right of individual petition to the Committee against Torture) or – the Optional Protocol to UNCAT (which established the Sub- Committee on the Prevention of Torture and gave it, inter alia, the right to visit places of detention).• Such bilateral, legally unenforceable diplomatic agreements (MOU) undermined the ius cogens nature of the absolute prohibition on torture and the non- refoulement obligation.
Could there be a real risk of violation then?• The Court considered: – that the picture painted by the reports of United Nations bodies and NGOs of torture in Jordanian prisons is as consistent as it is disturbing. – torture remains, “widespread and routine”. – as a high profile Islamist, the applicant is part of a category of prisoners who are frequently ill-treated in Jordan. – Article 3 (absolute) implies an obligation not to deport the person in question to the country where he may face ill treatment contrary to the article
• Found: – United Kingdom and Jordanian Governments have made genuine efforts to obtain and provide transparent and detailed assurances to ensure that the applicant will not be ill treated upon return to Jordan. – Unable to accept the argument that his high profile would increase his risk of being tortured – Jordanian Government is no doubt aware that ill-treatment have serious consequences for its bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom + international outrage – Risk that the applicant would be ill-treated if questioned by the CIA, that he would be placed in a secret GID or CIA “ghost”detention facility in Jordan, or that he would be subject to rendition to a place outside Jordan to be manifestly ill- founded
• Question raised : whether the applicant was at risk of a sentence of life imprisonment without parole and, if so, whether this would be compatible with Article 3 of the Convention. – No such risk in Jordan over the last 20 years, hence not an issue under the Article but discussed under Article 6• Verdict : applicant’s deportation to Jordan would not be in violation of Article 3 of the Convention.
• Article 6 ECHR – “In the determination of ... any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”• Government’s submission – “flagrant denial” had to be interpreted to mean a breach “so fundamental to amount to a nullification, or destruction of the very essence, of the right guaranteed” – Lack of structural independence in the State Security Court did not automatically mean there would be denial of fair trial
– accepted that the admission of evidence obtained by torture of the defendant would render that defendant’s trial unfair.– However, the same proposition did not apply to evidence obtained by ill-treatment that did not amount to torture– A flagrant denial of justice could not arise unless it was established on a balance of probabilities or beyond reasonable doubt that evidence had been obtained by torture.
• Applicant’s submission Flagrant denial of justice would occur at his re-trialbased on these factors :- – (i) if the State Security Court was a military court, aided by a military prosecutor; – (ii) that he was a notorious civilian terrorist suspect; – (iii) that the case against him was based decisively on confessions when there was a very real risk that those confessions had been obtained by torture or other ill- treatment by military agents; and – (iv) that the State Security Court would not investigate properly whether the confessions had been obtained by torture or ill-treatment
• Q1: Does a real risk of the admission of torture evidence suffice? – the central issue in the present case is the real risk that evidence obtained by torture of third persons will be admitted at the applicant’s retrial – admitting the evidence would be contrary to even the most basic international standards of fair trial – State Security Court may have the power to exclude evidence obtained by torture, but it has shown little readiness to use that power.= Applicant has discharged the burden of proof necessary
• Q2 :Would there be a flagrant denial of justice in this case? – The incriminating statements against the applicant were made by Al-Hamasher in the Reform and Challenge Trial and Abu Hawsher in the millennium conspiracy trial – Both were ill-treated in ways which amounted to torture – (Soering v. the United Kingdom)= there is a real risk that the applicant’s retrial wouldamount to a flagrant denial of justice
Conclusions• Ultimately protected by the ECHR• It is the latest decision in a series of national security cases involving the UK in which the ECtHR overturned the House of Lords.• Argued that there is an absolute protection under the ECHR, which extends the boundary of the non- refoulement principle – Flagrant denial of justice under Article 6
• But… – The decision to accept the Jordanian assurances as sufficient to remove any real risk of ill-treatment of Qatada upon deportation arguably weakens the application of the non-refoulement principle in the traditional context of Article 3 of the ECHR. – Foreshadowing the possibility of the UK using this method to circumvent issues attached with violation of Article 6 as well• All rights and no responsibility?