Page last updated at 12:39 GMT, Thursday, 19 April 2012 13:39 UK

Labour slams Qatada 'farce'

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has accused the government of presiding over a "farce" in its efforts to deport the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada.

Ms Cooper tabled an urgent question on 19 April 2012, following uncertainty over whether Abu Qatada can appeal against his deportation, forcing the home secretary to make her second statement to MPs on the subject this week.

Abu Qatada was arrested on Tuesday after the government believed the period of opportunity for him to appeal against a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling on his deportation had ended.

But ministers' actions have been thrown into doubt after the ECHR said it was considering an appeal lodged by the cleric's legal team after his arrest.

Responding to the urgent question, Home Secretary Theresa May said: "The government is clear that Abu Qatada has no right to refer the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, since the three-month deadline to do so lapsed at midnight on Monday."

She said that Qatada's right to appeal will be considered by five judges in the ECHR's Grand Chamber because the court "has no automatic mechanism to rule out an application" after the deadline.

Mrs May said she had written to the ECHR to argue Abu Qatada's application should be rejected and the case heard by the UK's Special Immigration Appeals Commission instead.

Yvette Cooper said that "confusion and chaos has turned into farce" and asked why ministers did not "pick up the phone to sort it out".

Mrs May dismissed the criticism, telling MPs that the government had been in contact with the ECHR.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, suggested that legal precedent pointed to a deadline of Tuesday, not Monday.

"A north London firm of legal aid solicitors have outwitted the expensive silks of the Home Office," he said.

A number of Conservative MPs took the opportunity to round on the ECHR, arguing that UK courts should have final say.

Leading Conservative eurosceptic Bill Cash called on the government to "withdraw from the European Convention" on Human Rights and "repeal the Human Rights Act" which enshrines the Convention in UK law.

Such calls prompted Labour MP David Winnick to accuse some Conservatives of "xenophobia and hysteria" and to praise the ECHR as a "great advance for Europe".

Former home secretary Alan Johnson had some words of warning for Mrs May, which he said were based on his own experience.

"The louder the cheers from behind, the deeper the mire the home secretary is in," he suggested.

Abu Qatada was detained for six years until February when a UK judge ordered that he should be freed.

He was kept on strict bail conditions, including a 22-hour curfew, until he was arrested earlier this week.

The ECHR had previously blocked his deportation to Jordan, unless assurances were made that evidence obtained through torture would not be used in court.

Home Office officials and ministers have held talks with Jordanian authorities to try to gain assurances that torture evidence would not be used in any trial.

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