The British government faced a fresh setback on Tuesday in its long-running legal battle to deport radical preacher Abu Qatada, but insisted it would not give up trying to send him to Jordan.
The Court of Appeal refused ministers permission to challenge its ruling last month that the terror suspect, also known as Omar Othman, cannot be deported to Jordan because of human rights concerns.
“The Court of Appeal has refused permission” to the government to take the case to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, a spokesman for the Judicial Office told AFP.
However, the refusal is not fatal to the case because ministers are entitled to ask the Supreme Court directly to hear their appeal — and officials indicated they would do exactly that.
“We are disappointed with the Court of Appeal’s decision but will now request permission to appeal directly from the Supreme Court,” a spokesman for the interior ministry said.
“The government remains committed to deporting this dangerous man and we continue to work with the Jordanians to address the outstanding legal issues preventing deportation.”
There is huge frustration in London over the failure to deport a man considered as “an exceptionally high-risk terrorist”, who has successfully blocked his removal for eight years.
A Spanish judge once branded him the right-hand man in Europe of Osama bin Laden, although Abu Qatada denies ever meeting the late Al-Qaeda leader.
The preacher was convicted in Jordan of terrorism charges in his absence, and is likely to face a retrial if he is returned.
But the European Court of Human Rights last year blocked his deportation over fears that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him in the new trial.
The government sought fresh assurances from Jordan about his treatment, but a Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) judge in November ruled again that he could not be sent back, a decision that was upheld by the Court of Appeal last month.
Faced with the stalemate, Home Secretary Theresa May told a parliamentary committee hearing last week that she was looking at whether Abu Qatada could be prosecuted under British law.
The cleric was sent back to jail last month after breaching the conditions of his release on bail. During his arrest, police searched his London home and recovered a cache of documents.
“In the current situation, the breach of bail conditions and what was discovered in the house is being looked at to see whether that is evidence that would lead to a prosecution in this case,” May told MPs.