ABU Qatada’s deportation was in the hands of the British courts today after the Jordanian terror suspect lost his bid to make a final appeal to Europe’s human rights judges.
The radical cleric’s lawyers immediately applied for him to be released on bail as it looked likely that deportation proceedings will still take many months.
While they rejected the case, the panel of five judges also ruled that Qatada’s appeal on the night of April 17 was within the court’s deadline.
The decision means Home Secretary Theresa May was wrong when she claimed the three-month appeal deadline from the court’s original decision on January 17 expired on the night of April 16, but the mistake will have no serious repercussions.
Qatada’s legal team lodged his appeal late on the night of April 17, which the judges ruled was in time.
As is typical, no reasons were given for the panel’s refusal to allow the case to be heard by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Lawyers for Qatada – described by a judge as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe – also applied to a senior immigration judge at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission for a fresh bail hearing, but no date has yet been set.
Mrs May said: “It has always been the Government's intention that the Qatada case should be heard in the British courts, so I am pleased by the European Court's decision.
“I remain confident that the assurances I have secured from the Jordanian government mean we will be able to put Qatada on a plane and get him out of Britain for good.
“His case will now go through the British courts.”
But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “It is shocking that the court has confirmed the Home Secretary got the date wrong and took an unacceptable risk with this serious case.
“We are all very lucky that the Home Secretary’s major mistake has not led to Qatada’s application for appeal being granted.
“Now is the time for Theresa May to apologise for such a potentially catastrophic error of judgment and answer questions as to what led her to make this mistake and why she was adamant she was right.”
She said: “The Government has shown very worrying incompetence and recklessness in dealing with Abu Qatada.
“This cannot be allowed to happen again.”
Mrs May is now likely to refuse any application by Qatada’s lawyers to revoke his deportation order, but it is still likely to be “many months” before he is put on a plane home.
Qatada’s legal team was challenging the court’s decision that the 51-year-old could be sent back to Jordan with diplomatic assurances that he would not be tortured.
Repeated failed attempts by UK governments over the last 10 years to deport the radical cleric have cost nearly £1 million in legal fees, Government figures show.