Britain’s efforts to deport terrorist suspects including the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada were dealt a serious blow by the European Court of Human Rights yesterday.
In a unanimous decision, the court in Strasbourg ruled against an attempt by Italy to return a Tunisian to his home country. The Italian authorities had sought to have Nassim Saadi deported on the ground that he had played an “active role” in an organisation providing support to fundamentalist Islamist cells in Italy and abroad.
The 17 judges decided that sending Saadi back would violate the European Convention on Human Rights because he faced a real risk of torture or inhumane treatment. Britain, which is seeking to send Abu Qatada to Jordan, had intervened in the case in the hope that the court would back the return of suspects regardless of their home country’s human rights record.
Ministers argued that the right of the British public to be protected against terrorism should be balanced against suspects’ right not to be illtreated on their return home. But the court rejected the Government’s argument and ruled that the protection against torture is absolute.