Scene: Abu Qatada’s sixth birthday

Let’s suppose that little Abu was born on the 17th of April. Clear enough?

Little Abu jumps excitedly on bed and wakes mum up: “Mum, I’m six now“.

Mrs Q, reflectively, “About now six years ago I was just packing to go to hospital. You weren’t born for another 11 hours, son!

Applying this, we know that six years from his birth expired at the same time of day on the same day of the month,six years later. i.e. on 17th April. 1-0 to Qatada.

But we equally know that most people would accept little Abu’s claim that he was six all day on the 17th. The deadline that marks the start of his birthday actually comes less than six years after his birth. Strictly speaking, at midnight on 16th. Qatada 1 – Home Office 1.

Precocious Abu: “I’m in my seventh year now, aren’t I, Mum?

Mrs Q, reflectively, “That’s right. Yesterday was the last day of your sixth year. Today is the first day of your seventh year.” (like, 1st January is the first day of a new year, not the last day of an old one)

Applying this, we know that if we had to do something before little Abu was six, then the last day to do it was 16th, not 17th. 2-1 to the Home Office.

Little Abu at bedtime, sad: “You said you’d get me a cake for my birthday, and you haven’t!

Mrs Q, guiltily, “I’ll just go to the open-all-hours shop, it’s still not too late!

We understand that if we do something at any point on the last day to do it, we’re in time. It’s still his birthday until midnight on 17th. Qatada 2 – Home Office 2.

We are also beginning to understand the lawyer’s nightmare. Does something need to be done within six years, or by his birthday? What are we going to do with part days? Who are we advising? Are we advising little Abu whether it’s safe to tell his friends he is six, or advising Mrs Q whether it is too late to buy a birthday cake?

Mr Q, arriving home to find little Abu already asleep: “I’ve got his new bicycle in the boot for his present as I promised.”

Mrs Q, annoyed: “I couldn’t keep him up any longer, why did you leave it so late?”

Mr Q, defensive: “I said I’d do it today and I have, shall we wake him up?

Mrs Q: “Give it him in the morning, it’ll be alright, he won’t turn it down because it’s a day late…

For a more sound legal analysis of calculating time limits in the case of Abu Qatada, go here:
Abu Qatada and the law of time

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