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Belhaj legal case granted permission to appeal

High Court grants permission to appeal for Libyan politician taking legal action against Jack Straw, Sir Mark Allen and the security services.

3 February 2014

High Court Judge Mr Justice Simon today granted permission for a Libyan politician and his wife to pursue their claims against the UK government in the Court of Appeal.

In December 2013, he had ruled that the English Courts could not hear claims that MI6 officers and Jack Straw MP were unlawfully involved in torture and rendition because it might damage relations with the US Government.

Today’s granting of permission to appeal the High Court decision is the latest stage in the legal action being brought against Jack Straw MP, MI6’s former director of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, and the Security Services, arising out of the rendition and torture of former anti-Gaddafi dissident Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife Fatima in 2004.

Mr Straw MP, Sir Mark Allen and the Security Services, argued that the English courts should not even hear evidence or rule on the case, because the kidnap, detention and rendition to torture of Mr Belhaj and his pregnant wife took place with the assistance of other states – in particular the US.

Mr Justice Simon said that he had accepted this argument "with hesitation" but he was concerned that what appeared to be “a potentially well-founded claim that the UK authorities were directly implicated in the extra-ordinary rendition of the Claimants, will not be determined in any domestic court.”

In his judgment, handed down a day after the announcement that Sir Peter Gibson’s Detainee Inquiry was being transferred to the Intelligence and Security Committee, Mr Justice Simon also pointed out that: “Parliamentary oversight and criminal investigations are not adequate substitutes for access to, and a decision by, the Court.”

The Judge also noted that the law was unclear and uncertain and the legal doctrines relied on by Mr Straw, Sir Mark Allen and the Security Services cast “a long shadow.”

Sapna Malik from law firm Leigh Day, who represents Mr Belhaj and Mrs Boudchar along with the legal charity Reprieve, said: "This judgment would have very worrying repercussions if it were allowed to stand, effectively granting immunity to our security services and military from the British justice system for any joint operations they conduct with the US, however misconceived.

“Our clients will now look to the Court of Appeal to uphold the rule of law in respect of such operations.”

Commenting, Reprieve legal director, Kat Craig said:

“It would be a grim day for British justice if cases as serious as this were blocked in order to spare the blushes of the CIA. All Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar want are answers and an apology – indeed, they have offered to drop the case if the Government will just say sorry for what it did, and make them a token payment of £1.

"Instead, we have seen the Government’s lawyers doing everything they can to ensure this case is not heard, seeking to place the Government above the law. It is therefore welcome that this will now receive the hearing it deserves in the Court of Appeal.”

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