Alex Massie

A Victory for the ECHR

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As Pete said yesterday, the arrest and presumed deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan is worth a cheer or two. So too is the fact that the British government orefers to act within the law, not outside it. The government insists it has received assurances from the Jordanians that Qatada will face a fair trial (or, perhaps more accurately, as fair a trial as can reasonably be expected). This is also worth a cheer, even if one cannot be wholly confident of the worth of these assurances.

Most of all, however, these developments are a victory for the too-often-maligned European Court of Human Rights. Granted, this assumes the Court will eventually rule that Qatada can be deported to his homeland but, presuming this is the case, far from impugning the court's worth the Qatada saga justifies it.

Does anyone believe the Jordanians would have offered these assurances absent the court's reluctance to permit the deportation of suspects to a country where the evidence used to obtain grounds for their prosecution may have been obtained by torture? Of course not. Changing the Jordanian constitution to prohibit the use of evidence gained through torture is plainly a good thing; it makes Jordan a slightly better, more civilised, country even if, as Freedom House attest, Jordan still has some way to go before it can be considered a free country in which the rule of law is both respectable and respected.

Nevertheless, these are welcome developments and an example, incidentally, of the "soft power" Europe and its institutions enjoy and wield. It remains regrettable that so many British politicians and pundits - on both right and left - were so keen to deport Qatada by any means and without regard to basic principles of decency and justice but though the mills of justice and reform may grind slowly they do, in this case anyway, grind on.

Qatada does not appear an especially pleasant piece of work; nevertheless he does not forfeit his human rights simply because he's objectionable or a "guru" to other objectionable types and terrorists. If the Jordanian assurances are credible and recognised as such by the ECHR then it may finally have a happier conclusion than would have once seemed possible. But that is because of the ECHR not in spite of it. This case has dragged on longer than anyone would have liked but, despite everything, it actually shows that the system and the ECHR works, not that it is irredeemably broken.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.