Torture ruling could let terror suspects go free

THIRTY terrorist suspects fighting deportation could be freed after Britain’s highest court yesterday outlawed the use of torture evidence.
The landmark decision by seven law lords unanimously dealt a fresh blow to the Government’s fight against terrorism. After the July 7 bombings, the Prime Minister had pledged that the “rules of the game” on dealing with terrorists had changed.
Last night investigators and prosecuting authorities were preparing to re-examine at least 30 pending cases before a secret immigration court to see whether evidence has been extracted by torture.
Defence lawyers have seized on the ruling to question the sources of allegation against defendants facing criminal charges in a series of prosecutions.
One man accused of involvement in a plan to carry out a lorry bomb attack alleges that he was tortured during ten months in custody in Pakistan. He is one of several defendants in a terrorist trial scheduled to begin in the new year.
Security services must now establish that evidence used before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) is not obtained by torture, the law lords ruled. If courts think “on a balance of probabilities” that it was, they must rule it out.
The law lords’ decision was hailed by human rights organisations as a landmark for justice throughout the democratic world. But Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said that it would not affect the fight against terrorism or the 25 people in jail facing deportation on grounds of national security and a further five terrorism suspects held under a form of house arrest.
“The Government has always made clear that we do not condone torture in any way, nor would we carry out this completely unacceptable behaviour or encourage others to do so,” he said.
“We have always made clear that we do not intend to rely on or present evidence in SIAC which we know or believe to have been obtained by torture.”
Gareth Peirce, the lawyer for eight detainees affected by the ruling, said: “We lost our way morally and legally with the claim by the Home Secretary that he would use torture evidence in this country and with the Court of Appeal judgment that endorsed that.”
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, which intervened in the appeal with 12 other organisations, said: “If we continue to peel away the layers of protection against torture, we will find a gaping void where our democratic values used to be.”
Lords Bingham of Cornhill, Nicholls of Birkenhead, Hoffmann, Hope of Craighead, Rodger of Earlsferry, Carswell and Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood allowed the appeals of the eight detainees held without charge against a majority Court of Appeal ruling.
The law lords made abundantly clear that English principles should not be sacrificed in the fight against terrorism.
The historic ruling comes almost exactly a year after the law lords delivered a similar blow to the Government’s anti-terrorist strategy, ruling that detention of suspects without charge or trial was unlawful.
In unusually strong criticism of his junior judicial colleagues, Lord Bingham said: “The English common law has regarded torture and its fruits with abhorrence for over 500 years and that abhorrence is now shared by over 140 countries which have acceded to the torture convention”.
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