‘This is a momentous decision,’ said Amnesty International yesterday. ‘The Law Lords ruling has overturned the tacit belief that torture can be condoned under certain circumstances.’
Welcoming the ruling, human rights group Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said: ‘Confessions extracted through beatings, electric shocks and pulled fingernails have no place in the UK legal system.’
Amnesty added: ‘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.
‘The decision means that the UK government must re-affirm its ban on torture and torture “evidence”.
‘The Law Lords have confirmed that evidence obtained through torture is never acceptable except in proceedings against the alleged torturer.
‘The ruling confirms the otherwise absolute inadmissibility in judicial proceedings in the UK of “evidence” extracted under torture.’
In October 2005, the Law Lords heard the appeal brought by ten foreign nationals who had previously been interned without charge or trial against an August 2004 judgment of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.
The appeals court had ruled admissible as ‘evidence’ before the courts, information obtained through the torture of a person who was not a party in the proceedings providing that the torture was not committed or connived at by UK agents.
Liberty added in a statement: ‘Direct implications of the ruling for the UK government are that it must review all cases in which torture evidence may have been used, refrain from deporting individuals to countries that torture, and investigate UK involvement in alleged extraordinary rendition flights as part of its “positive obligation” to uphold anti-torture laws.’
Amnesty said: ‘The Law Lords ruling will require the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission (SIAC) to investigate allegations that torture may have been used. SIAC must decide whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that torture has been used in the individual case that is under scrutiny.’
Leading the unanimous finding of seven law lords, former Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham said English law had regarded ‘torture and its fruits’ with abhorrence for over 500 years.
He added: ‘I am startled, even a little dismayed, at the suggestion (and the acceptance by the Court of Appeal majority) that this deeply-rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken can be overridden by a statute and a procedural rule which make no mention of torture at all.’
Lord Carswell added: ‘The duty not to countenance the use of torture by admission of evidence in judicial proceedings must be regarded as paramount and to allow its admission would shock the conscience, abuse or degrade the proceedings and involve the state in moral defilement.’