The unanimous ruling by Britain’s highest court that torture evidence can never be used in court proceedings is an important milestone, Human Rights Watch said today.
“This is a real victory in the struggle against torture,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The Law Lords have affirmed a core tenet of our values – that torture evidence is never acceptable.”
A seven-judge panel of the House of Lords Judicial Committee (commonly known as “the Law Lords”) ruled that even in terrorism cases, no British court can consider evidence obtained under torture. In the words of Lord Nicholls: “Torture is not acceptable. This is a bedrock moral principle in this country.” The verdict overturns an August 2004 majority decision by the Court of Appeal that such evidence could be used, provided that the U.K. “neither procured nor connived at” the torture.
Human Rights Watch is part of a coalition of fourteen human rights and anti-torture organizations that intervened in the House of Lords case.
The British government’s assertion that such evidence should be admissible is part of a growing effort to erode the torture prohibition. It is seeking to bypass the ban on returning people to torture by obtaining promises of humane treatment to allow it to deport terrorism suspects, despite clear evidence that such promises are an ineffective safeguard. It has concluded no-torture agreements with Jordan and Libya, and is negotiating similar ones with Egypt, Algeria and other countries with poor records on torture.
“Britain’s highest court has sent a clear signal to the government that torture is wrong,” said Cartner. “It is vital that the British government heeds that message at last, and stops trying to undermine the global torture ban.”
The case, A and others, was brought by ten foreign nationals previously certified under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 as suspected international terrorists and subject to indefinite detention without trial. The majority of the men are Algerian. In December 2004, the Law Lords ruled that indefinite detention was unlawful. The case arises from a July 2002 decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) that it was entitled to consider evidence that may have been obtained under torture in determining the men’s appeals against certification. The certifications will now be reconsidered by the SIAC in light of the House of Lords judgment.
Two of the men have left the U.K. and two had their certificates revoked prior to December 2004. Six of the men were subject to control orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 following their release from indefinite detention in March 2005, but an unspecified number of the six were subsequently detained on immigration charges pending their deportation on national security grounds.
Members of the coalition that intervened in the case are: the AIRE Centre, Amnesty International, the Association for the Prevention of Torture, British Irish Rights Watch, The Committee on the Administration of Justice, Doctors for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, The International Federation of Human Rights, INTERIGHTS, the Law Society of England and Wales, Liberty, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, REDRESS, and the World Organisation Against Torture.