Court of Human Rights prefers British style justice to Jordanian law

17 January 2012

Today two high profile decisions from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg demonstrate contrasting faith in the legal system of the United Kingdom and distrust of Middle Eastern regimes where torture and evidence gained from it are widespread.

Prior to the decision in Vinter and Others v UK (which concerned “whole life tariff” sentences for murder in three cases involving Jeremy Bamber, Peter Moore and Douglas Vinter), there was considerable anxiety in parts of the media and political community that this aspect of British sentencing practice for the most heinous murderers would be criticised or prevented by the Court. Instead, the Strasbourg judges appear to have taken comfort from the fact that whilst very severe, these sentences are dispensed following fair and detailed consideration by the British judiciary. Also the cases in dispute were particularly brutal and callous and so the whole life tariff was not disproportionate. Whilst instituted following the abolition of the death penalty in the United Kingdom, “whole life tariff” sentences (with no possibility of release on licence subject to rehabilitation) remain relatively rare.

By contrast, the case of Othman (Abu Qatada) v UK constitutes a damning indictment of the Jordanian criminal justice system where torture and evidence obtained by torture are completely commonplace. The UK Government sought to deport Qatada to that Middle Eastern Kingdom on the basis of concerns that he was instrumental in inciting acts of terrorism around the world. He was convicted in his absence of conspiracy to carry out bomb attacks and to provide terrorist finance and advice in Jordan in 1999. This alleged conduct would constitute criminal offences in most parts of the world including in the United Kingdom. However the Court of Human Rights believed that a criminal retrial in Jordon would most likely be built once more on torture evidence. It is clear therefore in the light of today’s judgement that any proposed criminal trial of this suspect should now take place in Britain without delay.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

"Today's decisions from the European Court of Human Rights show considerable trust in the UK legal system but understandable concern about Jordanian law.

"The court found that torture and evidence obtained that way is widespread in that country.

"So it is clear that if Abu Qatada is to be tried for terrorism, this should happen in a British court without further delay."

Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. For the full judgment in the case of Vinter and Others v UK, visit: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?item=1&portal=hbkm&action=html&highlight=vinter&sessionid=84969520&skin=hudoc-en

2. For the full judgment in the case of Othman (Abu Qatada) v UK, visit: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?item=1&portal=hbkm&action=html&highlight=qatada&sessionid=84969520&skin=hudoc-en

3. As the judgment in the case of Othman (Abu Qatada) v UK said: “No legal system based upon the rule of law can countenance the admission of evidence – however reliable – which has been obtained by such a barbaric practice as torture. The trial process is a cornerstone of the rule of law. Torture evidence damages irreparably that process; it substitutes force for the rule of law and taints the reputation of any court that admits it. Torture evidence is excluded to protect the integrity of the trial process and, ultimately, the rule of law itself”

4. The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 suspended the death penalty in England, Wales and Scotland for murder for a period of five years, and substituted a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment; it further provided that if, before the expiry of the five-year suspension, each House of Parliament passed a resolution to make the effect of the Act permanent, then it would become permanent. In 1969 the Home Secretary, James Callaghan, proposed a motion to make the Act permanent, which was carried in the Commons on 16 December 1969, and a similar motion was carried in the Lords