It has been very clear for a long time that something has gone wrong with British justice. A succession of Home Secretaries have targeted, at different times, each of the central principles that underlie the national system of law: trial by jury, habeas corpus, free speech, as well as the abiding tenet that there should be a strict separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive.
This magnificent legal inheritance has been a guarantee of freedom and fairness in this country since the Middle Ages. But – as Tuesday’s wretched debate in Parliament about Abu Qatada demonstrates so nicely – this tradition is no longer of interest to the political class.
Abu Qatada certainly seems to be a thoroughly undesirable and nasty piece of work. Tapes of his sermons were discovered in a flat used by one of the Twin Towers bombers. He is accused of being the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda in Europe, and is sought in his native Jordan for an attempt to murder tourists. Not merely that – he is on record as justifying suicide-bombing and, it is said, preaching anti-Semitism.