In the Media

Lord Chief Justice's fury over legal sagas such as Abu Hamza

PUBLISHED September 28, 2012

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said it was "unacceptable" that cases should take as long as eight years to go through the courts as different grounds for appeal are attempted, and that there was a "great public interest" in allegations concerning terrorism being dealt with swiftly.

He said all possible grounds to oppose extradition should be dealt with in one go, followed by an appeals process, and then a case should "come to an end".

His comments, which have been welcomed by MPs, come after it emerged that even the Queen had expressed concerns about the authorities' inability to deal with the Islamist cleric. It prompted renewed questions as to why Hamza is still in Britain and "playing the system".

The Egyptian-born engineer, who lost both hands and an eye while in Afghanistan, has been fighting extradition to the US since 2004. He is accused of involvement in hostage-taking in Yemen, urging jihad in Afghanistan and trying to set up a terror training camp in Oregon.

In 2006 he was jailed for seven years on separate charges of inciting murder and race hate outside Finsbury Park mosque, but has continued to oppose his extradition while behind bars.

In April the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hamza and four other suspects would not face inhuman treatment in US jails, and their attempt to appeal to the Grand Chamber in Strasbourg was rejected this week.

But Hamza's lawyers then made a new application to the High Court to put his imminent extradition on hold.

An interim injunction was issued to prevent his removal and the last-ditch application will be heard by two senior judges next week.

It is though that Hamza's legal team will say he should not be extradited because of his allegedly deteriorating mental health.

They may also try to halt the process on the grounds that the authorities still have his British passport, which he will need in order to get legal representation in the US.

His lawyers have already earned more than half a million pounds in legal aid from representing him, while his incarceration in a high-security unit within Belmarsh jail costs about £50,000 a year.

At his annual press conference on Thursday, Lord Judge was asked about the drawn-out Hamza saga and replied: "I'm not going to comment about any individual case, but any case that takes eight years through a whole series of judicial processes to come to a conclusion - and you've made the point that it hasn't yet come to a conclusion - is a source of real fury to me.

"We really can't have cases taking that long to reach a conclusion. It's not fair to anybody. It's not right."

He went on: "The problem isn't that there isn't a limit on the number of appeals.

"The problem is that new points keep coming up and new points are taken and then they go through the process.

"What you need is a process in which all the points which need to be addressed are addressed once and then there is an appeal process and it comes to an end.

"Any case that takes eight years - unless there's some extraordinary explanation, like the parties don't want it, they're not in a hurry - is unacceptable.

"People have to live their lives and they have to live their lives knowing where they stand.

"In the case of those sort of cases, alleged terrorist cases, well, actually, there's a great public interest in disposing of them, fairly, justly, but with speed."

His intervention was welcomed by politicians, but they said it needed to be followed up with reform of human rights law and appeal processes.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "There is no doubt that the process for extraditing Abu Hamza has taken far too long.

"We need a fast-track system in the ECHR for those being extradited on charges of terrorism. People who are dangerous should be removed as quickly as possible."

Dominic Raab, who sits on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, added: "This is refreshing plain talking.

"I hope the government will ask the Lord Chief Justice for his suggestions for tackling the problem. One major cause of delays has been the proliferation of human rights claims."

Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, said: "It's clear he is just trying one appeal ground after another. It is an astonishing carry-on.

"It's time we brought down the curtain on this charade."