23 February 2010
Leigh Day & Co have this morning issued judicial review proceedings on behalf of legal charity Reprieve challenging the lawfulness of the UK government’s guidance to intelligence personnel regarding involvement in torture.
The case is brought in the context of the growing body of evidence suggesting that UK intelligence personnel have been complicit in the torture of detainees by other states in the “war on terror”.
The evidence includes the case of Binyam Mohamed in which the actions of intelligence personnel have been referred to the police for criminal investigation. It includes the cases of many other individuals around the world, tortured whilst the UK authorities fed questions and information to their torturers.
The Guidance to intelligence personnel has not been published. While the government has committed to publishing revised Guidance which is presently being considered by the Intelligence and Security Committee, it has gone on the record to insist that the present Guidance will not be published.
However, the overwhelming impression as this evidence mounts, is that these are not just instances of individual agents exceeding their operational guidelines. Rather the emerging pattern suggests that officially sanctioned guidance and instructions are to blame for what appears to be systemic complicity in torture.
The purpose of the legal challenge is to enable the Court to scrutinise the Torture Guidance and assess whether or not that Guidance is unlawful in light of the abhorrence of torture enshrined in the Common Law of England and Wales as well as in international law.
Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, said: "Advice given to agents cannot sensibly be deemed ‘classified’, as disclosing legal advice hardly betrays a national secret. Rather, depending on what the policy was, it exposes those who sanctioned the advice to immense embarrassment. Equally, it cannot take a year to come up with new advice – we could have written it for them in an afternoon. Agents in the field are still, apparently, required to rely on the 2004 policy. Meanwhile, the government is playing for time here, hoping that the issue can be punted past the election to the next parliament.”
Richard Stein of Leigh Day & Co said: “There is compelling and copious evidence in the public domain that UK intelligence personnel have engaged with torturers in the interrogation of individuals detained in the “war on terror” in a manner that can only sensibly amount to complicity. The UK government still fails to come clean about the extent of its involvement in these crimes. It is right that the Court should now be asked to scrutinise the government’s guidance to its own intelligence personnel and assess whether this is as the result of officially sanctioned policy.”
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