UK's highest court to rule on use of information extracted under torture

Friday, October 14, 2005

Britain's highest court, the House of Lords Judicial Committee, meets on Monday to consider the legality of the use of evidence extracted under torture by third countries.

The UK's Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 allows the government to detain foreign nationals indefinitely if there is sufficient evidence to suspect them of terrorist involvement. The case now under examination centres around ten British-based foreign nationals, who have been detained under the Act's provisions.

The evidence against the detainees has not been publicised. But their lawyers claim there are grounds for believing that it may have been extracted under torture by a foreign government.

In November 2004, the UN Committee Against Torture, which monitors implementation of the Convention Against Torture, criticised Britain's refusal to rule out the use of information extracted under torture.

Britain is a state party to the Convention Against Torture, which states that the use of evidence obtained through torture can never be admitted in any court. But the Convention has not been formally adopted into British domestic law.

Human Rights Watch today released a statement arguing that the stipulation against the use of information extracted under torture is nonetheless "binding on all states" under customary international law.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a number of human rights organisations have raised wider concerns about the case, arguing that the use of information extracted under torture amounts to condoning the use of torture.

British domestic law outlaws the use of torture. The British government officially condemns the use of torture in any circumstances. But it argues that the use by Britain of information extracted through torture by a third party may sometimes be required in order to protect the British public from acts of terrorism. The British government maintains that the use of such information does not, in and of itself, condone or encourage torture.