London: Britain`s bid to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan to face trial there has received a setback over a last-minute appeal lodged by his lawyers in the European Court of Human Rights, a development that has taken the Home Office by surprise.
In January, the European court had disallowed his deportation on the ground that Qatada would not receive a fair trial there.
David Cameron has since received assurances from Jordan that evidence obtained from torture would not be used against him, and was preparing to deport him.
According to the Home Office, the three-month deadline to appeal against the European court`s ruling lapsed on Monday, while lawyers acting for Qatada said insisted the deadline was Tuesday.
The appeal was lodged and the court accepted the appeal, which means that until the appeal is heard and ruled upon, the deportation cannot be carried out.
The deportation of Qatada has been one of the high profile cases dealt by Home secretary Theresa May, who has come under trenchant criticism from the Labour party over the deportation that was almost scheduled until early this week.
Qatada, 51, who was once described as "Osama bin Laden`s right hand man in Europe", has been convicted twice in Jordan in his absence for conspiracy to carry out bomb attacks on two hotels in Amman in 1998, and providing finance and advice for a series of bomb attacks in Jordan planned to coincide with the millenium.
The cases were to be retried.
Qatada was first arrested in 2002 and is currently held in Long Lartin jail after breaching his bail conditions.
Facing criticism in the House of Commons today, May insisted that European human rights judges should throw out the appeal by Qatada against his deportation.
May told MPs the application had been lodged by Qatada`s lawyers after the deadline for appeal had passed at midnight on Monday.
She dismissed suggestions that the Home Office had miscalculated the date.
She said: "The Government is clear that Abu Qatada has no right to refer the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, since the three-month deadline to do so lapsed at midnight on Monday.
"The Government has written to the European Court to make clear our case that the application should be rejected because it is out of time".
May admitted that that because the European court had no automatic mechanism to reject an appeal on the grounds that it was out of time, it would have to be considered by the court`s Grand Chamber.
She said: "This means that the deportation process and any potential Siac (Special Immigration Appeals Commission) appeal is put on hold, but we will resume the process as soon as the injunction is lifted".
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "When the Home Secretary is accused of not knowing what day of the week it is, then chaos and confusion has turned into farce".