Q&A: what next for the detainees

Q&A: what next for the detainees

By Sam Knight, Times Online, August 11, 2005

Ten foreign nationals were detained by the Immigration Service this morning, including the radical cleric Abu Qatada, who has been described as al-Qaeda’s spiritual leader in Europe. The Home Office wants to deport them, but human rights groups say they will be tortured in their home countries.

Under what law the foreign nationals being held?

The ten people detained this morning are being held under the 1971 Immigration Act, which allows the Home Secretary to remove or deport individuals if he decides that their presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good or on national security grounds. Foreign nationals can be arrested and detained under Schedule 2 and 3 to the 1971 Act, pending their removal or deportation.

What happens next?

According to the Home Office, the foreign nationals can be deported immediately, as long as the Government has an assurance that they will not suffer human rights abuses in the receiving countries. There are no deportation hearings, but solicitors for the detainees have five working days to appeal against their removal.

How does the appeal process work?

Appeals against decisions made by the Home Office in cases of asylum, immigration and nationality are normally handled by the new Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, which was created in April.

But in cases relating to national security, appeals run through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), where judges and lawyers undergo special security vetting to handle the evidence presented to them by the Government. The Home Office expects all the foreign nationals detained this morning to appeal against deportation, but they will remain in jail pending the outcome.

How long will the appeals take?

It is hard to say. Some lawyers predict that the appeals process could take years. But the Home Office disagrees: « I wouldn’t like to speculate but I wouldn’t say a year, » said a spokesman this morning. « It’s a fairly straightforward process. »

Why have they not been detained before today?

All the foreign nationals are believed to be from countries where extremists and terrorism suspects are routinely tortured or sentenced to death.

Under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, Britain has agreed that: « No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. »

In 1996 that undertaking was found by the European Court of Human Rights to extend to deportation cases. The court blocked the deportation of Karamjit Singh Chahal, a Sikh activist who seeks the independence of Kashmir, from the UK to India because of the risk of torture by Indian security forces.

To get around the European Convention on Human Rights, Tony Blair announced last week that the Government was seeking assurances from ten countries that specific deportees would not be torture or ill-treatment.

One such « memorandum of understanding » has already been agreed with Jordan. According to the Prime Minister, he has already had « constructive conversations » with the leaders of Algeria and Lebanon.

The 11 men released on control orders from Belmarsh High Security Prison earlier this year are from Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. It is not clear how many of these men were detained this morning.

Will the diplomatic assurances work?

Last week, Manfred Novak, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, dismissed the assurances as an insufficient device to avoid Britain’s obligations under international law. Mr Novak said that in a recent case involving the deportation of a man from Sweden to Egypt, the UN’s Committee against Torture had made clear that such agreements were not acceptable.

« If you deport people, whether they are British citizens or foreigners, to another country where they are subjected to the risk of torture, then this is absolutely prohibited under international human rights law, » he told BBC Radio.

« If there is a substantial risk in a certain country like Algeria, Jordan, Egypt etc, then diplomatic assurances cannot be used, » he said.

« If a country usually and systematically practises torture, then of course they would deny they were doing it because it is absolutely prohibited so they can easily give diplomatic assurances but they are worth nothing. »

Amnesty International said today that the assurances are « not worth the paper they are written on ». A report released by Amnesty International last week accused Jordanian security services of using methods of torture that include heavy beatings, sexual abuse and electric-shock treatment.