Lords rule against use of torture evidence

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The Independent Online

Information which may have been obtained by foreign states using torture cannot be used as evidence against terror suspects in British courts, the Law Lords ruled today.

The House of Lords allowed an appeal by detainees held without charge on suspicion of being involved in terrorism against a controversial Court of Appeal judgment in August last year.

By a two-to-one majority, the appeal judges had ruled that, if the evidence was obtained under torture by agents of another country with no involvement by the UK, it was usable and there was no obligation by the Government to inquire about its origins.

Liberty and 12 other human rights organisations intervened in the case.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: "This is an incredibly important day, with the Law Lords sending a signal across the democratic world that there is to be no compromise on torture.

"This is also an important message about what distinguishes us from dictators and terrorists. We will not legitimise evidence obtained by torture by using it in our justice system."

Amnesty International said that the decision meant the UK Government must re-affirm its ban on torture and torture evidence.

The Law Lords had confirmed that evidence obtained through torture was never acceptable except in proceedings against the alleged torturer.

The ruling confirmed the otherwise absolute inadmissibility in judicial proceedings in the UK of "evidence" extracted under torture, said Amnesty.

"It is deplorable that the UK Government had to be taken to court over this. Over the last two and a half years the authorities have shamefully sought to defend the indefensible," it said.

"This is a momentous decision. The Law Lords' ruling has overturned the tacit belief that torture can be condoned under certain circumstances. This ruling shreds any vestige of legality with which the UK government had attempted to defend a completely unlawful and reprehensible policy, introduced as part of its counter-terrorism measures.

"The UK judiciary must now re-examine where 'evidence' extracted under torture may have been used in previous proceedings.

"It is also now imperative that the UK Government drops the so-called Memoranda of Understanding on the basis of which it is seeking to deport alleged terror suspects to countries where they are at risk of torture.

"Such memoranda are nothing other than another attempt to give a cloak of legality to that which is unlawful."

The unanimous finding that the appeal should be allowed began with a forthright condemnation of torture by Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice, who headed the panel of seven Law Lords.

He said the English law had regarded "torture and its fruits" with abhorrence for over 500 years.

"I am startled, even a little dismayed, at the suggestion (and the acceptance by the Court of Appeal majority) that this deeply-rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken can be overridden by a statute and a procedural rule which make no mention of torture at all."

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission continued to sanction the detentions using information obtained in United States camps by alleged torture methods.

Lord Bingham went on: "The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of third party torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice."