He doesn’t even know the charges against him: so much for justice being seen to be done

Most people’s first reaction to the news that the remarkably unphotogenic Abu Hamza (“evil Abu Hamza” as the Sun calls him) is on his way to Florence, the pitiless maximum security prison in Colorado, will be to say “well, at last”. But many will also ask why we have to wait another three months to give him the chance of appealing to the magniloquently named “Grand Chamber” of the European Court of Human Rights. In the words of one MP: “If the French government can stick troublemakers on a plane and kick them out within 48 hours then we ought to be able to do the same as well.”

And the apparent inconsistency between this judgment and that which barred the Government from extraditing Abu Qatada has not gone unnoticed; this has led some commentators to accuse the ECHR of coming to a politically expedient decision not to block Hamza’s extradition to the US for fear of the reaction of British public opinion. They have, thinks the Mail, been motivated by

their fear of the backlash if they had blocked the extradition.

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As they are well aware, David Cameron would then have faced huge pressure to ignore their ruling or even to withdraw Britain from the ECHR’s jurisdiction.

It would certainly have stiffened his resolve to clip the court’s wings, in the last month of this country’s presidency of the Council of Europe.

But let nobody suppose the ruling marks an awakening of humility in Strasbourg, which continues to block the deportation of Al Qaeda hate preacher Abu Qatada to Jordan. It is also preparing final judgment on whether the UK should give prisoners the vote, against the wishes of parliament and people.

On neither issue do the judges show any sign of backing down. Indeed, yesterday’s decision bears all the hallmarks of a tactical retreat before a renewed power-grab by Strasbourg.

Yes, the Mail will be delighted to see the back of Hamza. We would be even more thrilled to be rid of the ECHR’s interference in British justice.

Well, on the whole I agree. I am not mollified by the ECHR’s judgement on Hamza; but I have to say also that once I had reflected on my knee-jerk satisfaction at the discomfiture of any Islamist extremist, the court’s judgment on another of the five detainees now to be extradited to the not so tender mercies of the American judicial system really does raise doubts on the ECHR’S ability to make serious distinctions between individuals.

The case of Babar Ahmad, I have to say, really does make me wonder if another American extradition injustice is about to be perpetrated, with the ECHR’s full concurrence. Whatever the charges against Babar Ahmad are (and he has not been told what they are, nor on what evidence he has been held without trial for the last eight years), he is about to be sent to the US to be charged with crimes allegedly committed here. So why won’t he be tried here? As I understand it, the Americans don’t have any evidence against him apart from that supplied by the Metropolitan police, evidence which, if I have understood correctly, has not even been considered by the Crown Prosecution Service. Why is that? His very eloquent sister, Nazia Ahmad, has described this as “outsourcing” our judicial procedures to the US: and it is difficult not to concur that this seems an accurate way of describing what is happening in his case. The question has to be asked: is he being sent to America because our laws aren’t strong enough to convict him and American laws are? And if so, why don’t we either change our laws, or alternatively conclude that our laws rightly err on the side of caution and that it would be wrong to send a British citizen to face justice under a system where they certainly don’t?

I am not inclined to be sentimental about Islamist extremists: indeed, I have been accused of being anti-Islamic. But I am, all the same, very uneasy about a judicial system under which it is possible to keep a man, extremist or not, in jail without telling him why he is there. I am not saying that Babar Ahmad is guiltless: I don’t know if he is or not. But I was brought up to believe that in this country justice, if it is done, must be seen to be done; and in which justice delayed is justice denied.

This is how Nazia Ahmad puts it. Read this, and tell me that it doesn’t make you uneasy:

Imagine someone came to you one day and said “on this day, we believe that you did something. We are not going to show you any evidence and we have not charged you with anything, but get on a plane and go to a foreign country to stand trial” – and perhaps never see the light of day again.

This should not have taken eight years of incarceration without charge. Our appeal could even take up to another couple of years. The authorities can’t put them on the plane for another three months, so Babar is certainly in prison for at least that long before he even knows where he will end up next…

He will have to go to America and be kept in solitary confinement for his trial, we do not know how long that will be [it will probably be years]. There have been a series of appeals and the case has gone through the courts but, if they were going to tell him to go to America anyway, why did it have to take this long?

“My brother has been held without charge for the longest stretch in modern British history. It is shocking to think that the government is happy for him to sit in prison for that long without ever hearing the charges against him. (My emphasis)

If I am wrong to feel that an injustice may have been done in this case, and that that injustice is now being perpetuated, will someone please explain to me why? We all know exactly what Abu Hamza has been accused of: it’s all out there, and he has been duly convicted in a court of law for at least part of it. But apart from running a nasty Islamist website in this country (for which he should have been tried here if at all) what is Babar Ahmad being accused of?

He doesn’t know, and neither do we. The evidence for whatever it is was collected here by our police, not shown to our CPS, and then given to the Americans, who will now use it to put Ahmad into solitary confinement in a sweltering hell-hole in Colorado for the rest of his life. Isn’t there something very badly wrong with that?

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