The radical cleric Abu Qatada is in the news again following his arrest for an alleged breach of bail. The controversial refusal of the Courts to order his deportation to Jordan led to demonstrations outside his family home and to an application, last month, for an anti-harassment injunction by his wife and children. This was granted on 25 February 2012 by Mr Justice Silber.
The full title of the action is The Wife and Children of Omar Othman v The English National Resistance, Britain First, The English Defence League, The South East Alliance, The English Volunteer Force and Persons Unknown who are intending to assemble outside the home of the Claimant, including individuals associated with “March for England”. There is no written judgment or transcript but the Judicial Press Office has released a summary of the judgment issued by the judge.
The claimants were the wife and five children of Abu Qatada, otherwise known as Omar Othman. On 1 February 2013 they applied for an interim injunction to restrain a demonstration taking place outside their house the following day. This injunction was granted by Mr Justice Wyn Williams to prevent demonstrations less than 500 meters from their home.
The defendants were a collection of groups hostile to Abu Qatada. Their websites contained statements such as (with underlining and emphasis as in the original): –
“We will NEVER stop our demos out side his taxpayer funded houses (latest one pictured below) and we will NEVER stop exposing his every address. We intend to make his life a misery”
The judge said that there was powerful evidence of weekly demonstrations which lasted for up to 6 hours and terrified the claimant’s children.
The defendants relied on their rights under Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Their arguments were rejected by the judge as the restrictions were necessary to protect the rights of the Claimants.
The Claimants also sought to restrain the publication of personal matters relating to them such as “their address, their names and the address of any school they attend“.
The judge noted that there was evidence that some of the Claimants had been followed and their home had been the target of abusive shouting. Previous court orders required Omar Othman’s address to be kept confidential. As a result the injunctions were granted.
This is the second time an injunction has been granted to prevent harassment of those associated with Omar Othman. In February 2012, in the case of AM v News Group Newspapers ( EWHC 308 (QB)) Mr Justice Tugendhat granted an injunction to prevent disclosure of the address of Omar Othman’s landlord and harassment of him by the press and others.
The injunction in this case related to demonstrations directed at Omar Othman and his family. In his judgment the Judge emphasised the case was not concerned with whether “Omar Othman should still be in this country or whether he should be in prison in this country” and was also not concerned with whether he or his family “should be provided with a house financed by the United Kingdom taxpayers“. He also accepted “that it is perfectly legitimate” for there to be protests about his presence in the country and about the house provided to his family. It was, however, not acceptable to harass and abuse Omar Othman’s family.
This case shows how the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 can be used to where political demonstrations tip over into abuse and intrusion. Precisely because Omar Othman is an unpopular figure – who is under constant attack from the media and politicians – his family needs the protection of the courts. It is noteworthy that, even though the demonstration was at his home address (an address which, by court order was confidential), the judge did not prevent demonstrations from taking place completely but required them to be a substantial distance away from the home.