Abu Qatada row to rumble on

Home Secretary Theresa May was called to Parliament to answer an urgent question on the deportation of Abu Qatada Photo: PA/PA Wire

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has just answered questions from 59 members of Parliament in the House of Commons over the arrest of Abu Qatada. I'd like to say, after listining to all 59, that I now have an answer about the row over Abu Qatada's arrest. Alas, I cannot.

Mrs May insists, despite the huge ambiguity over the deadline, the government was right to order his arrest on Tuesday.

The Home Secretary says the three month deadline from the 17 January decision by the European Court of Human Rights ran out at midnight on Monday 16 April.

Abu Qatada's lawyers however insist the deadline did not run out until midnight on Tuesday 17 April and accordingly lodged an appeal at 22:00 BST.

The row centres on Article 43.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that:

"within a period of three months from the date of the judgement of the Chamber, any party to the case may … request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber [for consideration of appeal]"

– Article 43.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights

It doesn't immediately seem ambiguous.

But it might have been clearer had the text read "within three months beginning on and including the debate of the judgement" or even "within three months from the day after the date on which the judgement was made."

As neither is the case - it leaves room for the two different sides to come to two different conclusions.

And to add to the confusion, the Home Secretary repeatedly told the House that despite being confident about the deadline date, the panel of the Grand Chamber of the court can at their discretion decide whether or not to accept an appeal (even if it falls outside the deadline).

So where does this all leave the case of Abu Qatada's deportation to Jordan?

Labour claim the Home Office has either broken the law by acting 24 hours too soon or, at the very least, allowed Abu Qatada's lawyers to use the ambiguity over the date of his arrest to further delay proceedings.

The Home Office insists the deadline has passed but while the panel of the Grand Chamber considers the appeal - the injuction preventing his deportation still applies.

In a newsroom - one would pick up the phone and resolve the ambiguity over the dates in a matter of minutes. The legal system (and the ECHR in particular) grinds much more slowly than that.

And we now wait for them to make up their minds.