Torture and other ill-treatment
In July, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of an inquiry into UK involvement in the alleged mistreatment of individuals detained abroad by foreign intelligence services, in the context of counter-terrorism operations. The three-person inquiry panel, to be led by the Intelligence Services Commissioner, should begin its work in 2011. Civil society and human rights organizations raised concerns about whether the inquiry would have adequate powers and be sufficiently independent.
On the same date the government published the guidelines issued to intelligence officers and service personnel on the detention and interrogation of detainees overseas, and for sharing intelligence relating to detainees. Human rights organizations stated that the guidance was not compatible with international human rights standards.
In July, the High Court ordered the disclosure of a number of previously secret documents relating to the detention of UK nationals and residents in the custody of US and other overseas intelligence agencies. The documents provided further evidence of UK involvement in and knowledge of human rights violations, up to the highest levels of government.
In November, the Justice Secretary announced financial payments to 16 UK nationals or residents as part of a mediated settlement of civil damages claims brought by individuals detained in Guantánamo Bay. The terms of the settlement remained confidential.
- On 10 February, the Court of Appeal ordered the disclosure of seven previously redacted paragraphs concerning the treatment in US custody of former Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed. The disclosed paragraphs reaffirmed that UK intelligence officers knew that Binyam Mohamed was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while in US custody. On 17 November, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute a UK security services officer for any criminal offence arising from an interview conducted with Binyam Mohamed while in detention in Pakistan on 17 May 2002.
Wider investigations into allegations of criminal wrongdoing by the UK security services remained open at the end of the year, including in relation to the case of former UK resident Shaker Aamer. At the end of the year he remained detained without charge in Guantánamo Bay, despite public confirmation by the UK authorities that they would accept him.
Legal and policy developments
On 12 January, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that powers, under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, permitting the police to stop and search people without reasonable suspicion were unlawful, as they violate the right to respect for private life. The government subsequently announced that individuals would no longer be searched under these powers.
In July, the Home Office announced a “rapid review” of six key counter-terrorism powers: control orders; stop and search powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000; the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and access to communications data; deportations with assurances; measures to deal with organizations that promote hatred or violence; and the pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects.
- In April, the government announced that Lotfi Raissi, wrongly alleged to have participated in the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001, was eligible for compensation, eight years after the courts found that there was “no evidence whatsoever” to support the allegations.
As of 10 December, eight individuals, all British nationals, were under “control orders”. The control order regime, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, allows a government minister, subject to limited judicial scrutiny, to impose severe restrictions on an individual who is suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activity. The regime was renewed by Parliament in March 2010 for one more year.
- In June, the Supreme Court issued its judgement in the case of “AP”, ruling that the term of his control order requiring him to live in a city some 150 miles away from his family, when taken together with the 16-hour curfew restriction and the resultant social isolation, constituted a deprivation of his right to liberty.
The High Court reinforced the importance of family rights in September when it ruled that the forced relocation of “CA” could not be justified as it disproportionately affected his right to family life.
- On 26 July, the High Court ruled that the government could rely on the same material to impose a control order against “AY” as had been used in a previously unsuccessful prosecution.
There were continued attempts to deport individuals alleged to pose a threat to “national security” to countries where they would be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. In May, the new government stated that it would maintain and extend the use of “diplomatic assurances”, arguing they were sufficient to mitigate the risk of torture.
Proceedings by which these deportations could be challenged before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) remained unfair. In particular, they relied on secret material undisclosed to the individuals concerned or the lawyer of their choice.
- Despite the SIAC determining in 2007 that Mouloud Sihali, an Algerian national, was not a risk to national security, the government continued to seek his deportation to Algeria. In March, the SIAC dismissed his appeal against his deportation, concluding that diplomatic assurances negotiated between the UK and Algeria would be sufficient to mitigate any risk he may face upon his return. The case was pending before the Court of Appeal at the end of the year.
- In May, the SIAC ruled that the UK could not proceed with deportation in the case of two Pakistani nationals to Pakistan, due to the risk that they would be subject to torture or other ill-treatment on return. It further held that confidential assurances could not be accepted as a sufficient safeguard to mitigate that risk.
- The first challenge to the Memorandum of Understanding negotiated between the Ethiopian and UK governments failed. In September, the SIAC ruled that “XX”, an Ethiopian national who argued that he would be at risk of torture if returned, could be sent back to Ethiopia relying on assurances of humane treatment from the Ethiopian government. The decision was to be appealed.
The government continued its attempts to introduce greater secrecy into judicial proceedings. On 4 May, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government could not rely on closed material procedures in the civil lawsuit brought by six former Guantánamo detainees over alleged complicity in torture by UK state actors. The Court stated that permitting such a procedure, which would allow the UK government to present secret material in closed sessions, in the absence of statutory power to do so, would contravene the fundamental principle of fair trial. The case was pending at the Supreme Court.
In July, the UK government announced plans to publish policy proposals for how intelligence material should be treated during judicial proceedings.
- On 6 October, the inquiry into the death of Azelle Rodney, who was shot dead by Metropolitan Police officers on 30 April 2005, began. Attempts by the government to keep secret key evidence in Azelle Rodney’s death led to proposals for “secret inquests” which were twice rejected by Parliament. Concerns remained as to the degree this inquiry would be held in secret.
- On 3 November, the coroner for the inquest into the deaths resulting from the London bombings on 7 July 2005 ruled that she did not have the power to hold closed hearings which would allow for secret material to be presented by the UK government in the absence of the victim’s families. On 22 November, the government’s appeal challenging the ruling was rejected.
In March, the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK had violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Al-Saadoon and Mufdhi. The two Iraqi nationals had been transferred to Iraqi custody despite substantial grounds for believing that they would risk facing the death penalty and execution.
In March, the Ministry of Defence announced the establishment of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team to investigate allegations of criminal wrongdoing in relation to the abuse of Iraqi citizens by UK armed forces. Investigations began in November and were expected to take two years.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that members of the armed forces serving outside UK jurisdiction were not entitled to benefit from the rights guaranteed by the Human Rights Act 1998.
- Oral hearings before the Baha Mousa inquiry concluded in October. The inquiry examined the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa at a UK-run detention facility in Iraq in September 2003, after he had been tortured by UK troops over a period of 36 hours. The final report was expected in 2011.
In December, the High Court rejected an application brought by 142 Iraqis seeking a single public inquiry into alleged torture and other ill-treatment in UK military detention and interrogation facilities in southern Iraq between March 2003 and December 2008. The court did not rule out the possibility of such an inquiry in the future. The decision was to be appealed.Top of page
In November, the Home Secretary introduced draft legislation before Parliament containing measures that, if enacted, would make it more difficult for magistrates to issue arrest warrants for suspected war criminals and torturers visiting the UK.Top of page
In July, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that no charges would be brought in relation to the death of Ian Tomlinson. He died in April 2009 during the G-20 demonstrations in London shortly after being struck with a baton on the back of his leg by a police officer who then pushed him to the floor. Prosecutors concluded that there was no realistic prospect of a conviction against the police officer involved following disagreements between the medical experts as to the cause of death.
- In August, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that four officers of Metropolitan Police Service’s Territorial Support Group would be charged with causing actual bodily harm to Babar Ahmad during his arrest on 2 December 2003.
In February, it was announced that three paramilitary groups had decommissioned their weapons, including the Irish National Liberation Army. Paramilitary violence, however, continued: there were serious attacks on members of the security forces and other targets by dissident republican groups, and a killing in Belfast in May attributed to a loyalist group.
On 15 June, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry published its findings into the events of 30 January 1972, during which 13 civil rights marchers were killed and as many others wounded by British soldiers in Northern Ireland. The inquiry concluded that none of those killed or injured that day bore any responsibility for the shootings; none of them posed a threat of causing death or serious injury. The report confirmed that several of the victims were shot in the back whilst running away. The inquiry also found that the accounts put forward by many of the soldiers were manifestly and knowingly untrue. Accordingly, the deaths and injuries caused by British soldiers that day were found to be unjustified. In response the Prime Minister gave a public state apology.
In December, the Northern Ireland Executive announced its intention to establish an inquiry into historical institutional child abuse.
- In September, the final report of an inquiry into the death of Billy Wright in 1997 found no evidence of state collusion in his death, but recommended comprehensive reform of the prison service. Final reports of inquiries into the killings of Robert Hamill and Rosemary Nelson, a human rights lawyer, remained pending.
- The government continued to renege on its commitment to establish an independent inquiry into state collusion in the death of the prominent human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane in 1989.
In July, the Supreme Court held that individuals should not be required to conceal their sexual identity in order to avoid persecution by their country of origin. A previous court decision had found that it was permissible to return asylum-seekers in such a context, provided their situation could be regarded as “reasonably tolerable”.
In August, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales referred the compatibility with refugee and human rights law of transferring asylum-seekers to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The UK authorities confirmed in September that transfers to Greece would be halted until the Court of Justice had ruled.
- Forced returns to Baghdad, Iraq took place, contrary to the advice of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
- On 12 October, Jimmy Mubenga died during an attempt to forcibly return him to Angola. Witnesses stated that prior to his collapse excessive force had been used to restrain him by guards working for a private security firm.
In December the Deputy Prime Minister reaffirmed the coalition government’s commitment to ending the detention of children for immigration purposes, setting a deadline of May 2011 to end the practice.Top of page
Concerns were raised about the lack of implementation of the European Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings. The government had failed to put the necessary safeguards in place for child victims of trafficking, or to correctly identify victims of trafficking, which resulted in breaches of victims’ human rights and undermined prosecutions.
In July, the Home Secretary agreed to extend a pilot project until March 2011, supporting victims of domestic violence who lack access to public funds because of their insecure immigration status, while seeking a permanent solution to ensure their protection.
On 25 November, the government published its new National Action Plan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, to ensure a gender perspective in addressing post-conflict situations.Top of page