Abu Qatada is a Jordanian cleric. He is also an alleged terrorist. He was found guilty in a Jordanian court, in his absence, of committing terrorist crimes. He has lived in the UK since 1993, and until yesterday he was in custody in the UK. The British government have been attempting to deport him to stand trial in Jordan, but he claims that his human rights would be breached if he was sent home because some of the evidence against him has been obtained from witnesses who were tortured. UK and European law prevents a suspected criminal being tried in these circumstances. So deportation has been refused by the courts. On Tuesday he was released from prison, although he will be closely monitored, and protected. The UK government are hopping mad and have pledged to continue to fight to send him home to Jordan.
Torture is now constitutionally illegal in Jordan; the Jordanian government amended their constitution to make this so in 2011. It is however still regarded as being widespread by Amnesty International. You can find their latest report here. The concern of the UK court which released him this week was that if he is deported to face a new trial in Jordan the evidence of the tortured witnesses might still be used, although the Jordanian government has promised not to do this.
Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz is a convicted murderer. He is also the grandson of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. In 2010 he was found guilty by a British jury of killing his manservant in a sexually motivated attack in a London hotel and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Last week UK Prime Minister David Cameron was in Saudi on a trade mission. This week it was reported that the Prince will almost certainly be sent home to Saudi in a 'prisoner transfer deal' following ratification of a protocol between the two countries last August. This notwithstanding the concern is (maybe expectation) that once the transfer has been made and the Prince has been returned to Saudi he will be quietly released from the Saudi prison and will not serve his sentence.
Can we identify the difference between the two situations? Maybe in terms of moral inequivalence, although I for one am certainly not qualified to nominate a terrorist act as less or more 'evil' than murder. Nor is this about whether they want to go home - Abu Qatada certainly doesn't and the Prince probably does (although being an outed homosexual in Saudi will not be a pleasant experience), but anyway it isn't their decision. Seems to me that the fundamental difference is that the Abu Qatada decision was made by the judiciary, whereas the Abdulaziz decision was made by politicians. And that may be because the Prince has friends in high places, and the cleric doesn't. Nor does the UK government in his situation; their ability to influence the UK and European judiciary on human rights legislation appears to be non-existent.
Politicians can negotiate. Saudi spends enormous amounts with the UK on defence contracts. The likelihood that that expenditure will continue in the future will have been one of the variables in the trade discussions last week. So might the fate of the Prince. Lots of opportunity for a deal.
Although we talk about 'plea bargaining' as a negotiation in a legal framework, judges don't negotiate. They implement the law. Their flexibility is therefore limited to the subtlety of interpretation.
So please ponder this thought. If you have a problem, with a customer or supplier or trade union or employer, which has become intractable and needs either better negotiation or judicial interpretation, in which direction would you prefer to go?
Stephen White, Managing Partner