RADICAL cleric Abu Qatada has pledged to finally leave Britain as soon as a new treaty offering guarantees that torture evidence will not be used against him becomes law, an immigration tribunal heard today.
Representing Qatada at a bail application hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC said the terror suspect will return to Jordan once the treaty, revealed last month by the Home Secretary, is ratified by the UK and Jordanian parliaments.
However, Qatada will have to wait to find out if he can be released from Belmarsh prison in the mean time after Mr Justice Irwin at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) adjourned his bail application to May 20.
The Government has been trying to deport Qatada to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999, for nearly eight years.
Immigration judges decided last year that Qatada, also known by another surname, Othman, could not be deported over fears that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him in the Middle Eastern country.
Last month, the Home Secretary unveiled a new treaty between the UK and Jordan offering fresh guarantees that such torture evidence will not be used.
Mr Fitzgerald QC told the tribunal: “There has been a development in the form of a treaty signed on March 24.
“That treaty is clearly designed to meet the requirements laid down by Mr Justice Mitting as to evidence admissible at a retrial, if there is a retrial.
“If and when the Jordanian parliament ratifies the treaty, Mr Othman will voluntarily return to Jordan.”
Mr Fitzgerald QC said Qatada’s vow to return removed any risk that he would abscond if released on bail.
He added: “There’s never been a time in the last 12 years that Mr Othman and his family could safely return to Jordan.”
He went on: “For a long period of time, he has made it clear that he wishes to leave lawfully.
“He has made it known that he would be willing to discuss returning to Jordan providing conditions could be discussed.”
Mr Fitzgerald QC said: “Why would he make himself lawless and subject to arrest when he has said that the right thing to do is to go back to Jordan once the assurances are given?”
Robin Tam QC, appearing for the Home Secretary, said the treaty would be laid before the Jordanian parliament in the next few weeks, while the UK side of the process should be completed by late June.
Mr Justice Irwin asked Mr Tam to provide evidence of the process in the UK and Jordan in bringing the treaty into force.
He added: “Not merely when it has been ratified but when it’s in force.”
Qatada was locked up in Belmarsh prison in March for breaching bail conditions which prevent him from turning mobile phones on in his house.
Today’s hearing had originally been called to determine whether he should be allowed to return to his taxpayer-funded home in London.
Mr Justice Irwin told the tribunal that on March 7 the cleric’s home was searched by police.
A total of 17 mobile phones, three USB sticks, one SD card, five digital media devices and 55 recordable CDs or DVDs were found, the judge said.
Qatada’s bail was revoked in light of the suspected bail breaches, though it was unclear if he admitted the breaches.
Mr Fitzgerald QC said Qatada did exercise “due diligence” with his phones, many did not belong to him and he did use them illegally.
But Mr Justice Irwin said: “These breaches are significant.”
He added that the conditions were in place to stop Qatada “communicating his ideas”.
Mr Tam argued that the Home Secretary had been disadvantaged by the short notice given by Qatada’s representatives for the bail application.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This could be very good news if it means Abu Qatada returns to Jordan as soon as possible - as we all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done.
“Abu Qatada should have made this decision a long time ago as this legal process has dragged on far too long. We will watch the next steps closely until he departs, but I hope this saga can now be brought to an end.”
Keith Vaz MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “I welcome Abu Qatada’s commitment to voluntarily returning to Jordan if the treaty is ratified.
“The Home Secretary must get on a plane to Jordan and secure ratification immediately before Mr Qatada changes his mind.
“I have today written to the Prime Minister of Jordan to ask what the timetable is for ratification.”
Security minister James Brokenshire said: “The Home Secretary’s focus remains on seeing Abu Qatada returned to Jordan at the earliest opportunity. We continue to pursue this case before the courts and to work with the Jordanian government to achieve this.”
And asked if the Prime Minister welcomed the latest development, David Cameron’s official spokesman told a daily Westminster media briefing: “The only point I would make on Qatada is that the case is still ongoing but the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are absolutely determined to put Abu Qatada on a plane back to Jordan.”