In the Media

Judge questions Abu Hamza medical appeal

PUBLISHED October 3, 2012

Abu Hamza's extradition should be speeded up rather than delayed if he is seriously ill, a senior judge has told the convicted terrorist's lawyers.

The Islamist preacher is trying to avoid being sent for trial in the US on the grounds that he is suffering from depression and sleep deprivation as a result of his incarceration in HMP Belmarsh, where guards switch his cell light on every hour at night.

His legal team say extradition should be stayed so he can undergo an MRI scan, and that it is only because he is seen as a "pantomime villain" that his medical needs have been ignored.

They fear he is also suffering from a degenerative brain condition that could leave him unable to follow any criminal proceedings in the US, and so make him unfit to plead.

But on the second day of his last-ditch High Court case, launched after the European Court of Human Rights knocked back his appeal, one of the two judges hearing the application suggested that his health problems were no reason to delay the process further.

Sir John Thomas, President of the Queen's Bench Division, said: "There are excellent medical facilities in the United States.

"The sooner he stands trial the better. If he is at risk of a degenerative condition, the sooner he is put on trial the better. I don't see how delay is in the interests of justice.

"On the evidence before us, the risk of a degenerative condition can only strengthen the case for extradition."

His comments came days after the most senior judge in England and Wales, The Lord Chief Justice, said it was a source of "fury" that cases such as that of Hamza can drag on for eight years as a succession of appeal grounds are deployed.

James Eadie, QC, counsel for the Home Secretary, claimed the latest attempt to avoid extradition was an abuse of process, as it was "inherently unlikely" that Hamza's mental health had deteriorated sharply since a key ruling against him by Strasbourg in April.

Hamza's barrister, Alun Jones, QC, insisted the late appeal was not a "device" to evade justice.

He told the court that Hamza - jailed in 2006 over his hate preaching outside Finsbury Park Mosque - had endured eight years of "utterly unacceptable conditions" behind bars.

Prison officers in the high-security wing of Belmarsh were said to switch on his cell light every hour throughout the night to check he was moving.

The court reserved judgment in the case of Hamza and four other terror suspects who are wanted by the US authorities for allegedly supporting jihad, involvement in bombings in Yemen, and working with Osama Bin Laden.

A decision is expected by the end of the week.