4:57pm Thursday 19th April 2012
© Press Association 2013
Abu Qatada's appeal to European human rights judges against deportation to Jordan may have been lodged "just in time", according to advice from the Council of Europe.
Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs that the application by Qatada's lawyers should be thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as the three-month deadline had passed when it was submitted on Tuesday night.
However, Labour released advice from the research department of the Council of Europe - which is responsible for the court - suggesting it may have just beaten the deadline. The note, sent to the House of Commons Library, stresses that the final decision on whether the appeal is admissible now rests with a panel of five judges from the court's Grand Chamber.
"The Othman (Qatada) case was supposed to become final on 17/04/2012 and, according to the information provided by the European Court, the applicant requested a referral to the Grand Chamber on the 17/04," the note said. "So I would say that it just in time but of course the Court (panel) may decide otherwise."
The note was signed by Nathalie Chene of Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers Council of Europe.
Earlier, in the Commons, Mrs May was adamant that the appeal deadline had passed 24 hours earlier at midnight on Monday - April 16. "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," she said.
"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."
On Tuesday, Mrs May announced Qatada had been rearrested and deportation proceedings resumed in the absence of any appeal against the court's ruling - issued on January 17 - that he would not face torture if he was deported to stand trial on terrorism charges in his native Jordan. However that night at 11pm local time Qatada's lawyers lodged their appeal with the ECHR.
Amid noisy scenes in the Commons chamber, Mrs May accused the lawyers of using "delaying tactics" to hold up the deportation process. She acknowledged, however, that proceedings would have to be put on hold while the Grand Chamber panel came to a decision on the admissibility of the appeal.
Pressed by Labour former home secretary Alan Johnson, she said that she took full responsibility for any error by the Government, saying: "I, of course, take responsibility for decisions that I have taken. This is not a question of what officials have done. I take full responsibility."
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