Monday, 27 September 2010

The Equality and Human Rights Commission challenges the government ...

Earlier this year, the government, very commendably, made public "consolidated guidance" to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel on the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas and on the passing and receipt of intelligence relating to detainees.  It now appears that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is claiming that the guidance is unlawful (here) whereas the government disagrees (here).  The Commission has suggested ways in which, in their view, the guidance might be amended to make it lawful.  Unless the matter can be resolved then it is likely that the Commission will apply for judicial review of the guidance.

Under the guidance, British officers may not cooperate with foreign forces over the interrogation of terror suspects if they “know or believe” that torture will take place.  There is no such restriction where officers believe there is only a “serious risk of torture”, which the commission argues is not consistent with the UK’s international obligations, including the UN convention against torture. - see (link).  A further issue relates to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" where the guidance appears to be somewhat less rigorous.

The European Convention on Human Rights Article 3 also outlaws torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  In a number of cases, the European Court of Human Rights has given general descriptions of what makes treatment or punishment "inhuman" or "degrading".  Inhuman treatment has included hooding; continuous loud noises, sleep deprivation, reduced diet and being made to stand against a wall in a painful posture for a lengthy period: Ireland v U.K. (1979-80) 2 EHRR 25.  Degrading treatment has been described as treatment which humiliates or debases an individual showing a lack of respect for, or diminishing, his or her human dignity or which arouses feelings of fear, anguish or inferiority capable of breaking an individual's moral and physical resistance: Pretty v United Kingdom (2002) 35 EHRR 1

After the general election, the government announced an inquiry into allegations of British complicity in  torture - The Guardian 21st May.   The Foreign Secretary (Mr William Hague) stated - "It is vital to remember that torture does not help us defeat terrorists; it helps them to try to justify their hostility to us".

See also Cabinet Office - "UK involvement with detainees in overseas counter-terrorism operations

Detainee Legacy Issues - post on Watching the Law

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