Abu Hamza's Lengthy and Expensive Delay of Justice

A key part of Hamza's legal argument was utterly absurd and it beggars belief that he has been able to delay extradition on this point.

After an excruciating few months, The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have definitively rejected an appeal from Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects, meaning they can finally be extradited to the United States to face justice. The court ruled earlier this year that the individuals in question could be legally extradited, but a last minute appeal against this judgment was submitted to the Grand Chamber of the European Court for its consideration, which has now been rejected. Hamza's claim centered around the argument that his detention in the United States would breach his human rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

This whole process has been a very expensive delay of justice. Best estimates suggest that a combination of legal fees and detention for just one of the terror suspects has so far cost the British taxpayer over £4 million. Hamza's legal team alone last year received almost £1 million from legal aid, again, paid for by the UK taxpayer. There is a certain amount of irony about a radical islamist hate preacher making use of Human Rights legislation, which also guarantees rights for homosexuals, but he is entitled to make his claims nonetheless.

A key part of Hamza's legal argument was utterly absurd and it beggars belief that he has been able to delay extradition on this point. He unsuccessfully tried to persuade the courts that his detention in a US supermax federal prison, ADX Florence, would result in him being at a real risk of "inhuman or degrading treatment", leading to a breach of his rights under Article 3 of the ECHR. His claim, however, falls apart when you consider the fact that the United States has time and time again stated that his detention in ADX would be impossible because of his severe medical condition. If extradited and found guilty of these offences in the United States, he will most likely be sent to a medical facility where he will be imprisoned.

This decision means that Babar Ahmed, one of the other terror suspects who is also charged in the United States with terror offences including providing material support to terrorists will lose his luxurious prison conditions where he spends nine hours outside of his cell each day and partakes in activities with other inmates such as cooking and tending a vegetable garden. If jailed in ADX, he would initially face a maximum of ten hours per week of out-of-cell recreation.

Litigating at the ECtHR by all the terror suspects appears to have merely been a delay tactic because the points of law on which their complaints were based have been decided in prior cases. To illustrate, in 2006 when Babar Ahmad's case was initially heard, the High Court of Justice in London ruled explicitly that detention in a U.S. penitentiary would not constitute "inhuman or degrading treatment" under Article 3. The ruling is supported by a number of cases from the ECtHR, such as the 2006 case of Ramirez Sanchez v. France, where the court found that conditions in a French prison which were worse than those at ADX Florence would not lead to breach of the complainant's Article 3 rights.

To give a flavor of what would amount to a breach, the case of Ilascu and Others v. Moldova and Russia details prison conditions which lead rise to a breach of Article 3 of the ECtHR. Here, the complainant was treated so badly by the Moldovan authorities whilst incarcerated that his health deteriorated. He was denied access to a lawyer, the right to send and receive mail and was deprived of food as a punishment. There is absolutely no question that the conditions in ADX are analogous.

The most recent case before the ECtHR saw all the terror suspects collectively making the same claim about their Article 3 rights. In court they failed to adduce new evidence which indicated their detention at ADX would violate their rights under Article 3, as UK Courts have repeatedly interpreted the article. Indeed, as the court later pointed out, the range of activities and services at ADX "goes beyond what is provided in many prisons in Europe."

Overall, the legal assertions made by the complainants have failed in their entirety. Their lawyers, on the other hand, have been very successful in navigating the suspects through every court under the sun, delaying justice and wasting money. Every court the suspects have petitioned have unanimously decided that the suspects can indeed be extradited. Time has now run out for Abu Hamza and his co-complainants.


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