Mark Oliver -
Monday October 17, 2005
Seven law lords began deliberating today whether Britain can use evidence
against terror suspects that may have been obtained by torture in other
The case has been brought by eight of the 10 foreign men who were previously
detained without charge under anti-terror legislation at Belmarsh
Ben Emmerson QC, for the detainees, told the panel of law lords that the
appeal court was wrong to give a ruling last August that permitted the use
of evidence that may have been gleaned from torture abroad.
He said the ruling by two of three appeal court judges gave "insufficient
weight" to the "constitutional responsibility to suppress the manifestations
The men making the legal challenge were released after the House of Lords
ruled in December 2004 that holding foreign terror suspects indefinitely
without trial breached their human rights.
Eight of the 10 Belmarsh detainees are now being held under Home Office
control orders that include a form of house arrest. Two of the men have
exercised their option to leave the UK.
Mr Emmerson said the case is not about whether information possibly obtained
by torture from abroad can be used to stop an attack.
The question under consideration was, he said, whether the evidence can be
used in a law court or at a hearing of the Special Immigration Appeals
Tribunals (Siac), which holds secret hearings involving terrorist suspects.
The appeal court ruling last August permitted evidence possibly obtained by
torture abroad to be used in the detainees' Siac hearings.
Lawyers for the remaining eight men argue that the appeal court ruling
breached article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans
torture or degrading treatment.
The men's lawyers say they are being held on evidence obtained by torture
carried out by third parties at the US military detention facility in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"This case raises in acute form the dilemma of any democracy when the
judiciary is called upon to reconcile the protection of national security
and the protection of human rights," Mr Emmerson told the law lords.
Judgments from the law lords are normally handed down between six and eight
weeks after they have heard all of the evidence.
This is the first terrorism-related human rights case to reach the Lords
since the July 7 bombings in London, and the first to test whether the
judges agree with Tony Blair that believe the suicide bombings have changed
the rules of the game".
Lord Carlile, a Liberal Democrat peer appointed by the government to review
its anti-terror legislation, has said evidence from possible torture should
be used in a way that was "proportional" and not "fixed".
His argument is that the evidence could not be ignored if it indicated
dozens or possibly hundreds of lives could be at risk from an attack.
However, Kevin Martin, the president of the Law Society, which will give
evidence to the law lords, said the "use of torture is draconian and
"If this ruling is not overturned, we are worried it will prove to be a
green light for torturers," he said.
NGOs such as Liberty and Amnesty International argue that the government is
chipping away at civil rights, becoming complicit in torture, risking using
unreliable evidence and sending a dangerous message to the rest of the world
British victims of torture joined campaigners outside parliament today to
sign a petition urging the government to ban evidence obtained by torture
Bill Sampson, 46, who has dual British and Canadian nationality and lives in
Penrith, Cumbria, said that he suffered beatings, sleep deprivation and
sexual molestation during 964 days in solitary confinement in Saudi Arabia
after being arrested on false charges of terrorism and spying.
"After so many days of that type of brutality, you will say whatever it
takes to stop the pain," he said. "From the questions your interrogators are
asking you, you can gather what it is that they want to hear and you will
tell them it."
Amnesty's UK director, Kate Allen, said: "This is a momentous case. The UK
is at an important crossroads. It can reaffirm its stand against torture,
which is absolutely banned, or slide towards illegality by its tacit
acceptance that torture is sometimes okay."
The hearing was adjourned and will resume tomorrow.