Stop The Use Of Torture Litigation

Challenging the UK’s refusal to hold a torture inquiry

We’re holding the UK government accountable for its role in the US’s torture and rendition programme.

We have consistently called for the UK government to hold an independent judge-led inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the US’s torture and rendition programme in the context of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

Investigations by Reprieve and others have shown that from 2001 onwards the UK has been involved in hundreds of cases of torture and rendition. These include cases of rendition to foreign torture chambers or to the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Hundreds of these cases involved UK officials trading in intelligence that was obtained under torture, or led to people being tortured.

In 2010, then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced that there would be an inquiry into the UK’s complicity in these abuses. Since then, however, the UK government has only allowed investigations which have been incomplete and undermined by a lack of independence. The key witnesses from the security services have never given evidence in any forum.

The urgent need for a full inquiry is shown most clearly by the case of Abdelhakim Belhaj and his then-pregnant wife, Fatima Boudchar. They were kidnapped with the help of MI6 and tortured in CIA custody before being rendered to Gaddafi’s Libya. Evidence of the UK’s complicity in their rendition was uncovered essentially by accident, in papers found in an abandoned building in Tripoli following the fall of Gaddafi. In May 2018 the Prime Minister was forced to give an unprecedented public apology for British involvement in their kidnap and rendition.

Only a few months after this apology, the Cabinet Office conclusively confirmed that the UK government would not honour its promise of launching an independent inquiry.

In October 2019, Reprieve, jointly with David Davis MP (Conservative), and Dan Jarvis MP (Labour), launched a judicial review of the UK government’s refusal to deliver the independent inquiry it promised. This legal challenge argues that the government’s decision not to hold an inquiry is unlawful.

Specifically, Reprieve and the other claimants are arguing that the UK government’s decision not to hold an independent inquiry is contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (under which there is an obligation to fully investigate credible allegations of torture).

In December 2019, the High Court granted permission for this challenge to proceed, noting it is “open to argument whether all the necessary lessons can have been learned if the facts have not been fully established”. [1]

This legal action has already lead to further evidence emerging of more UK involvement in torture and rendition. In a hearing in the High Court on 9 June 2020, a witness statement made anonymously by an MI6 agent revealed that MI6 had identified 15 cases of UK complicity in mistreatment that may not have been properly investigated. These cases appear to have been identified following a secret, internal review by MI6, conducted in late 2018 after Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee released a landmark report identifying hundreds of cases of UK involvement in mistreatment. Reprieve’s legal challenge aims to ensure that these and other past abuses are comprehensively and independently investigated, and opened to public scrutiny. Only through an independent, judge-led inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition can we fully understand what the UK government has done in our name, and move towards seeking redress for the victims.

[1] Order by the Honourable Mr Justice Hilliard, November 2019.