London: The British Government today lost its appeal against a ruling preventing the deportation of radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan.
Earlier, lawyers from the British Home Department had appealed against decision by the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission (SIAC) in November last year, which allowed the suspected Al-Qaeeda operative to stay in Britain.
The immigration tribunal headed by three judges cited that Qatada could not be removed to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in 1999, without "a real risk" of evidence obtained through torture being used against him at a retrial.
A Home Office statement said the department plans to seek leave to appeal, "this is not the end of the road, and the Government remains determined to deport Abu Qatada," said a spokesperson from the British Home Ministry.
He added that the Ministry will consider this judgment carefully and plan to seek leave to appeal, while in the meantime it will continue to work with the Jordanians to address the outstanding legal issues preventing deportation.
The immediate effect of the ruling is that the preacher can`t be detained under immigration law because there`s no realistic chance he is going to be deported anytime soon.
So if the Home department wants to get rid of the cleric, it will have to start all over again trying to convince judges that the facts on the ground in Jordan have changed.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, appearing for the cleric, argued the SIAC ruling was right and there was "concrete and compelling evidence" that his co-defendants were tortured into providing evidence.
He said government lawyers had "identified no error of law" and were "quarrelling with findings of fact".
The Court of Appeal ruling means that the cleric will be realesed from jail after he was re-arrested earlier this month following an alleged breach of bail agreement, concerning the use of communications equipment at his home.
James Eadie QC, appearing for the British Government, said SIAC had taken an "erroneous" view of the situation in Jordan and the legal tests that had to be applied when it came to assessing the conditions Abu Qatada could face there.
He said Jordanian law bans the use of torture and reliance on statements extracted under duress.
Jordanians will do everything in their power to make sure Abu Qatada receives a trial that was "fair and seen to be so", he added.
But lawyers for Abu Qatada told the court that the UK should not send someone back to a country with a "dubious human rights record".
Judges at an urgent Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled he must return to Belmarsh prison. The Court of Appeal`s ruling makes clear that the chances of an appeal to the Supreme Court are very slim.
Critics of this legal saga say it would never have been necessary if Abu Qatada had been charged with a crime and put on trial. The Metropolitan Police said his re-arrest was linked to an investigation into extremist internet material.
SIAC ruled in November there was a "real risk" evidence gained by torture could be used against Abu Qatada at a retrial in Jordan, meaning that he would not get a fair hearing.
In April 1999, he was convicted in his absence on terror charges in Jordan and sentenced to life imprisonment, and it is on these charges that he faces a retrial.
At a Court of Appeal hearing earlier this month, lawyers for the UK government argued a block on his deportation should be lifted, saying a "fair" trial in Jordan was possible.
Abu Qatada was first arrested in October 2002 in south London and detained in Belmarsh high-security prison. He was re-arrested and released on bail number of times over the years that followed.
Last year, he was released on bail from prison in when the courts blocked the home secretary`s latest attempt to deport him to Jordan.