The hooding of prisoners or terror suspects by Britain's armed forces has been totally banned following a High Court judgement.
Human rights lawyers said the ruling – which comes less than a month after the inquiry into the brutal death of an Iraqi man who was beaten and hooded in British custody – meant the end of hooding "for ever".
Alaa' Nassif Jassim al-Bazzouni won the case to outlaw the "barbaric" practice after arguing that government guidance unlawfully condoned hooding prisoners for security reasons.
Lawyers acting for Mr al-Bazzouni, a father-of-three from Basra who claims he was abused and hooded by British troops in 2006, challenged guidance issued by the UK Government in July last year on the interrogation of suspects held by foreign states. The guidance allowed the armed forces to co-operate with countries which might continue to hood for "security reasons". But yesterday Sir Anthony May and Mr Justice Keith ruled that guidance should be changed so that hooding was not permitted at all because of the risk to physical and mental health. In a linked ruling, judges rejected claims the guidance also did not do enough to stop personnel becoming involved in torture by foreign powers, saying the torture guidance only offered "practical" help to field officers.
The hooding ruling follows the publication of Sir William Gage's damning inquiry into the death of Iraqi father-of-two Baha Mousa, who died in September 2003 after spending 36 hours in British military custody. A postmortem found he sustained 93 external injuries and that hooding was a contributory factor in his death. Sir William found the Ministry of Defence (MoD) guilty of "corporate failure".
Phil Shiner, the solicitor representing Mr al-Bazzouni and Mr Mousa's family, said the inquiry had helped focus scrutiny on the hooding technique. He said: "This judgment represents the final nail in the coffin of the MoD's desperate and morally corrupt efforts to keep hooding alive as a permissible interrogation technique.
"Sir William Gage's first recommendation in the Baha Mousa inquiry report was that there must be an absolute prohibition on hooding. The MoD's position has been that it is still legally permissible for security reasons. This judgment slams the door shut for ever on hooding involving UK personnel anywhere in the world."
The use of hooding was forbidden by the Geneva Conventions and had been explicitly banned by the Heath government in 1972 after their use in Northern Ireland was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. Despite this, the Baha Mousa inquiry revealed the practice was widespread in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003.
A Government spokesman said they were pleased with the latest ruling, but added: "We are considering the implications of the rest of the judgment. To be clear, the MoD has banned the hooding of detainees by its personnel in all circumstances."
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