Agnes Taylor

A Look Back on a Year of Achievements: The Agnes Taylor case

Read our Annual Review 

This article is part of a series of ‘In Focus’ pieces which look at some of our key achievements over the past year.

This piece focuses on the case of Agnes Reeves-Taylor, the ex-wife of former Liberian president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor.  

In June 2017, the Metropolitan Police Service arrested Agnes Reeves-Taylor, the ex-wife of former Liberian President and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor, on torture and conspiracy to commit torture charges.

The charges, relating to her role in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) during the first Liberian civil war in 1990, were brought using the international law principle of universal jurisdiction, marking only the fourth occasion that this principle has been used in UK court proceedings.

The case was referred to the Supreme Court on appeal, in relation to a narrow but important point of law: what does ‘person acting in an official capacity’ mean in section 134(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which implements the UK’s international legal obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture?

REDRESS intervened in proceedings to argue for a broad definition of the term ‘person acting in official capacity’, covering individuals acting for non-State armed groups with de facto control over civilian populations.

In a judgment issued on 13 November 2019, the Supreme Court found that any individual acting for an organisation or body which exercises ‘functions normally exercised by governments’ should be deemed as ‘acting in an official capacity’ and can therefore be prosecuted for crimes of torture under UK and international law.

The Agnes Reeves-Taylor case was later dismissed due to a lack of evidence that the NPFL exercised government control at the time of the alleged crimes. However, the Supreme Court decision remains an important confirmation that members of non-State armed groups in control of government functions, such as ISIS and the Taliban, may be prosecuted for crimes of torture under UK and international law