Evidence that might have been obtained by means of torture cannot be used against terror suspects in UK courts, the Law Lords ruled yesterday. The decision means that the cases of eight detainees facing deportation are expected to be reconsidered by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke accepted the ruling but said it would have "no bearing" on efforts to combat terror. He said the government did not use evidence it knew or suspected had been obtained by torture but the ruling had clarified the appropriate legal test of what was admissible. Sounds like the Government has decided to swallow the sour grapes!
The ruling centres on how far the Government must go to show that no improper methods of obtaining information from suspects have been used. In other words, they have to show that the information they present came through legitimate, civilised and legal means.
The Court of Appeal ruled last year that such evidence could be used if UK authorities had no involvement. But eight of the 10 foreign terror suspects who were being held in detention at Belmarsh Prison without charge, backed by human rights groups, challenged that ruling.
They argued evidence obtained in US detention camps should be excluded from court hearings. Hopefully this will mean one less customer for America's terrorism.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) must now investigate whether evidence against the suspects facing deportation was obtained by torture. The Home Secretary said the Government had not been planning to rely on evidence it knew or suspected had been obtained under torture, - so at least that is an admission that they are in possession of information gathered through 'dubious' means. Nor did he expect the ruling to affect the outcome of the men's appeals.
Mr Clarke said: "We have always made clear that we do not intend to rely on or present evidence in SIAC, which we know or believe to have been obtained by torture. So this issue is hypothetical." What is hypothetical is whether that evidence would have been presented if this ruling had not happened.
Lord Bingham, the former Lord Chief Justice, who headed the panel of seven law lords, said English law had abhorred "torture and its fruits" for more than 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," he said.
Another member of the panel, Lord Carswell, said allowing evidence from torture to be used would "involve the state in moral defilement".
Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said the "landmark judgement" showed judges had "once again been more effective in defending individual rights than this government".
Amnesty International said the "momentous" ruling overturned the "tacit belief that torture can be condoned under certain circumstances".
The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, said it was untrue the UK Government did not use information from torture. He had been told the UK did not use torture itself or ask that any specific person be tortured. "As long as we kept within that guideline, then if the Uzbeks or the Syrians, or the Egyptians or anyone else tortured someone and gave us the information that was OK".
Over to you America, and the Supreme Court. It's time for you to put your foot down and tell the Administration their moral duty.