Torture evidence inadmissible in UK courts, Lords rule
Staff and agencies
Thursday December 8, 2005
Evidence that may have been obtained by torture cannot be used against
terror suspects in British courts, the House of Lords ruled today.
A panel of seven Law Lords voted unanimously to allow an appeal by eight
detainees who are being held without charge on suspicion of being
involved in terrorism, against a controversial Court of Appeal judgment
passed in August 2004.
The appeal court voted last year that if evidence was obtained under
torture by agents of another country with no involvement by the UK, it
was usable and there was no obligation by the government to inquire
about its origins.
But today's ruling means such evidence is inadmissible under British
law. It also means the home secretary must re-examine all cases where
evidence obtained by torture has been used against suspects.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice who headed the
panel, said English law had regarded "torture and its fruits" with
abhorrence for more than 500 years.
"The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel
the exclusion of third-party torture evidence as unreliable, unfair,
offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible
with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to
administer justice," he said.
The announcement was welcomed by human rights groups. Amnesty
International, who led a coalition of 14 organisations on behalf of the
detainees, said the decision meant the government must re-affirm its ban
on torture and evidence obtained by torture.
An Amnesty spokesman said: "This is a momentous decision. The Law Lords'
ruling has overturned the tacit belief that torture can be condoned
under certain circumstances.
"This ruling shreds any vestige of legality with which the UK government
had attempted to defend a completely unlawful and reprehensible policy,
introduced as part of its counter-terrorism measures."
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of civil rights group Liberty, said:
"This is an incredibly important day, with the Law Lords sending a
signal across the democratic world that there is to be no compromise on
"This is also an important message about what distinguishes us from
dictators and terrorists. We will not legitimise evidence obtained by
torture by using it in our justice system."
Sir Menzies Campbell MP, the Liberal Democrat shadow foreign secretary,
said the announcement by Britain's highest court of law was a "landmark
"Set against the background of extraordinary rendition and illegal
detention it marks a return to due process and the rule of law," he said.
Amnesty International is now calling for an end to the deportation of
alleged terror suspects to countries where they are at risk of torture.