David Mellor, former Home Office Minister, says we are under no legal obligation to obey the Strasbourg Court’s ruling on Abu Qatada. Is he right? No one’s denied it

Home Secretary Theresa May has said 'we are doing everything we can within the existing legal regime to deport [Abu] Qatada' (Photo: PA)

David Mellor, who used to be a rather good Heritage Secretary (jocularly known at the time as the “minister for fun”) and was before that, among other things, a Home Office Minister, has just sounded off on the subject of the supposed powerlessness of the Government to deport the “hate preacher” Abu Qatada back to Jordan, because of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

It’s all wrong, he says: we are under no legal obligation at all to obey this body, which – if he is right – we would be justified in referring to as the European so-called “Court” (because it actually has no jurisdiction we need obey). Have a look at this:

Abu Qatada could be deported to Jordan if the Government chose to reject a European Court ruling, a former Home Office minister said today.

David Mellor said Home Secretary Theresa May should simply ignore the ruling in Strasbourg that prevents Britain throwing out the hate preacher because he could stand trial for terrorism offences involving evidence gathered through torture.

Speaking after Qatada was released from prison, he said: ‘The ruling in Strasbourg is a gnat-bite that the British Government is totally free in law to ignore [my emphasis]. ‘There is clearance up to the level of the Supreme Court here to deport him to Jordan, which is a friendly state with a civilised government.

‘If the Home Secretary chose, as she should, to put him on a plane this morning and send him back, she would have broken no laws.

He blamed ‘paralysis’ within the coalition for Mrs May’s failure to act.

He said: ‘A combination of [Justice Secretary] Ken Clarke and the Liberal Democrats makes this a political fight she feels she cannot win so she is funking it.’

Is he right? If he’s wrong, I haven’t yet heard anyone in Government (or anyone else) denying what he has said. But if he’s right, it changes everything. Everyone has so far assumed that the Government has no option but to do what it has so far done in the Abu Qatada case: that is, try to get an assurance from the Jordanian government, not only that they won’t torture him (apparently the “court” accepts this) but also that it won’t, at his trial in Jordan, rely on the evidence of anyone else who may have been tortured. So we are now trying to get the Jordanian government to say they won’t do it. Then we will go back to this wretched body in Strasbourg, armed with this second piece of paper, and hope that the “court” will also accept that, and reverse its judgment saying we can’t deport this man. Was there ever such a nonsensical procedure? Apart from anything else, no government ever admits to torturing people: they just lie about it. But if Mellor is right, we don’t have to go through this absurd rigmarole. We can have him on a plane tonight and have him out of our hair for good.

Job done.

Or would it be? The supposed jurisdiction of this wretched body will continue to be a thundering nuisance. It will continue to interfere in our national life, as though “human rights” were unknown to British law. The fact is that our own courts and legal system (for good or ill) are absolutely under the sway of the Human Rights Act, which supersedes all other laws. So what on earth are we doing, on top of all that, accepting the jurisdiction of Strasbourg?

Interestingly, the idea that we should simply withdraw from the court is already gaining ground. The think tank Policy Exchange has just published a report, by the distinguished jurist Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, entitled “Bringing Rights Back Home: Making human rights compatible with parliamentary democracy in the UK”, which says that we should immediately enter into negotiations with the court “in order to find agreed ways to ensure that the judges at Strasbourg give greater discretion to the domestic judges of each member state”: in other words, get them to agree to stop interfering with our democracy and our courts. If not, says the report,

the UK should consider withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and establishing the Supreme Court in London as the final appellate court for human rights law. In that case, the UK would continue to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into its domestic law.

Contrary to what has been stated by some opponents of such a reform, it is our conclusion that there is strong evidence to suggest that the UK’s membership of the European Union and of the Council of Europe does not require continued adherence to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights should the UK opt for such a withdrawal.

It’s all very measured and (yawn) responsible. Me, I would just unilaterally and without further ado declare our legal independence of foreign judges who know nothing about our history, our culture or our legal system, and who are therefore simply not competent to determine what we do about anything at all. Or have I missed something? Meanwhile, nobody has contradicted David Mellor: could he just have genuinely spotted that this particular emperor has no clothes? If so, what next?