Jagtar Singh Johal

Foreign Affairs Committee’s Criticism of the UK’s Approach to Arbitrary Detention and Consular Assistance Echoes REDRESS’ Concerns 

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)’s “unnecessarily defensive culture” prevents the department from learning from past mistakes in addressing the mistreatment of British nationals detained abroad, concludes the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) in a critical follow-up report published today. 

The follow-up report comes after the publication of the FAC’s inquiry report, “Stolen Years: combating state hostage diplomacy” in April, and the UK government’s response to that report in July, which rejected the vast majority of its recommendations on how to improve the UK government’s response to these cases.  

It also follows a report from the Parliamentary Ombudsman on the provision of consular support to one detainee, Matthew Hedges, who was arbitrarily detained and ill-treated in the UAE in 2018. The Ombudsman’s report confirmed many of the findings of the FAC’s inquiry report, including that the FCDO’s actions concerning signs of torture and ill-treatment in this case were not consistent with its own relevant guidance. 

In its follow-up report, the FAC states: “The case of Matthew Hedges and the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report into the FCDO’s engagement in this case is a stinging indictment of the FCDO’s approach to arbitrary detention and consular assistance. It demonstrates its inability to ensure that their own guidance to keep UK citizens safe is followed.” 

The FAC also criticises the fact that despite the publication of its inquiry report, it was only after the publication of the Ombudsman’s report in August that the UK government committed to a review its internal guidance in cases where there are allegations of, or concerns, about torture and ill-treatment. The FAC notes that: “More concerning is the unnecessarily defensive culture at the FCDO, which undermines trust and perpetuates the Government’s inability to accept any blind spots in relation to the mistreatment of British nationals detained abroad.”  

The FAC nevertheless welcomes the UK government’s commitment to carry out this review and urges it to consider again their recommendations for reform. Several of the recommendations echo those made by REDRESS to the FAC inquiry, including the need to:

  • establish a special envoy to oversee cases where UK nationals are detained for diplomatic leverage (as already exists in the US); 
  • reassess all cases where British nationals have received opinions of arbitrary detention and are being held in countries with a history of torture of foreign detainees, and  
  • act more assertively to any States or authorities who are ill-treating UK citizens or who refuse to allow consular access, to avoid leaving citizens at a greater risk of prolonged arbitrary detention, torture and state hostage-taking. 

As highlighted by the FAC, the UK government has been reluctant to call on the Indian government to release Jagtar Singh Johal, a client of REDRESS who has suffered torture and has been arbitrarily detained in India for six years, for fear the authorities in India will limit consular access.  

Chris Esdaile, REDRESS’ Legal Advisor, said: 

“As shown in cases such as that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Jagtar Singh Johal, the UK government’s response failed to protect them from abuse. We are disappointed that the UK government did not act on the original recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry report, and failed to respond positively to other evidence or to calls from families of those arbitrarily detained.  We call on the UK government to urgently reconsider how it handles the cases of UK citizens arbitrarily detained abroad.” 

For more information, contact Eva Sanchis, Head of Communications, on [email protected] or +44 (0) (0)20 7793 1777. 

Photo by Free Jaggi Now Campaign.