22 May, 2010

The proposed Inquiry relating to alleged U.K. complicity in torture

The United Kingdom is a signatory to the "Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" - (The Torture Convention).  The U.K. signed the Convention on 15th March 1985.  Article 2 requires signatories to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.  The offence of torture is to be found in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 s.134.  A prosecution requires the consent of the Attorney-General.

The last few years have seen a growing sense of unease about the possibility of U.K. officials being complicit in acts of torture.  There has also been concern about British involvement in the use of "Extraordinary Rendition" by the U.S.A.  Further concerns were raised by the Binyam Mohamed litigation.

Both Liberty and Amnesty International have welcomed the announcement that there will be an Inquiry. 

Liberty has set out a "timeline" of torture allegations.

Amnesty has listed some questions which, in their view, ought to be answered.

One such question relates to the use of Intelligence Services Act 1994 section 7. "If, apart from this section, a person would be liable in the United Kingdom for any act done outside the British islands, he shall not be so liable if the act is one which is authorised to be done by virtue of an authorisation given by the Secretary of State under this section".

Amnesty are asking for greater information about the use of this section the extent of which is unclear.  Just what has been "authorised" which would otherwise have fallen within the criminal law in the U.K.?

Details of the Inquiry have yet to be announced - e.g. will it be held under the Inquiries Act 2005; who will chair it; what will be the exact terms of reference; what powers will it have to order production of witnesses and documents; will it sit in public or private or a mixture of both etc.

The new Foreign Secretary's announcement that there will be an Inquiry into these matters will (hopefully) serve to clear up these matters which, without an adequate answer, will stain the reputation of the U.K. and of the previous Labour government.

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