David Davis MP is asking the High Court for access to secret court hearings into past UK involvement in torture.
These secret hearings are taking place in the judicial review Mr Davis MP is bringing – along with Reprieve and Dan Jarvis MP – over the Government’s refusal to hold an independent inquiry into British complicity in torture and rendition.
The Government is seeking to have key parts of the judicial review heard in secret courts, known as Closed Material Procedures, which were introduced as part of the 2013 Justice and Security Act.
The Government’s push for secrecy follows the emergence of evidence revealing that there may be at least 15 further cases where the UK was complicit in torture and rendition. The 15 previously uncovered cases were identified by MI6 in October 2018 in the course of an internal review, but had not become public until now.
Mr Davis MP’s application was revealed today in The Times, ahead of a hearing planned for September 22nd in the High Court. Mr Davis MP and his co-claimants are arguing that there is no national security need to refuse him access to this evidence, because as Conservative former Cabinet Minister and member of the Privy Council, he had access to such information throughout his Parliamentary career.
If Mr Davis MP is not granted access to this evidence, none of the Claimants will have direct sight of it. This undermines the fundamental principle of justice that unless it is strictly required, the parties before the Court should have access to the same evidence as relied upon by the Court.
Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said: “If British personnel helped torture people that should not be concealed from the public behind the doors of a secret court. We want the Government to keep the promise it made to torture survivors ten years ago, and air evidence of past wrongdoing in a fully independent inquiry”.
David Davis MP, said: “Torture is illegal, immoral, and totally counterproductive when it comes to keeping this country safe. Our legal challenge has already revealed 15 previously unknown cases where past Governments got us mixed up in torture, and only by confronting these mistakes can we ensure they are not repeated”
Dan Jarvis MP, said: “Despite a dark recent past, Britain has a proud history of standing up against torture. Out of the devastation of World War 2, we helped establish international protections against torture because we understood it undermines our moral standing, legal authority and national security. Now we need to rebuild our reputation, not further damage it by pushing evidence into secret courts, and the British public has a right to know what is done in its name.”
The British Government has never delivered on promises to hold a fully independent, judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in US torture and rendition of individuals as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’. This legal action claims that the Government’s refusal to hold an inquiry is irrational, contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (under which there is an obligation to fully investigate credible allegations of torture), and violates the common law prohibition of torture.
In 2010, then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced the so-called Gibson inquiry to investigate UK complicity in such abuses. The Gibson inquiry lacked the independence and powers needed to get to the truth of the UK’s role in post 9/11 abuses, and was boycotted by NGOs including Reprieve before being scrapped altogether by then-Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke in 2012. Clarke promised that a fully independent inquiry would be launched once ongoing police investigations were concluded, but this never materialised, and Mr Clarke maintains that a fully independent inquiry is needed.
In 2014, the Government announced an inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), but in delivering its report in 2018, the ISC accepted its findings could only be treated as provisional and incomplete, as Downing Street had blocked it from interviewing multiple witnesses.
In July 2019, then-Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington told Parliament: I can confirm today that the Government has decided that it is not necessary to establish a further inquiry. There is no policy reason to do so, given the extensive work already undertaken to improve policies and practices in this area. The Government’s position is also that there is no legal obligation.
Over nearly two decades, evidence of UK complicity has come out only in dribs and drabs, after repeated aborted investigations. Potentially hundreds of cases have never been fully investigated.
In May 2018, the Government was forced to give an unprecedented public apology for British involvement in the rendition and torture of Mr Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Ms Fatima Boudchar. They were kidnapped by the CIA with the help of British intelligence in 2004, before being tortured in CIA custody. The couple were subsequently rendered to Gaddafi’s Libya.