UK courts rule torture “evidence” is admissible

The REDRESS Trust (“ REDRESS”) joins other international non-governmental organisations and human rights groups in expressing its shock and dismay at the UK Court of Appeal’s decision yesterday that British courts can use evidence extracted under torture, as long as British agents are not complicit in the abuse.

REDRESS has a mandate to assist torture survivors to seek justice and other forms of reparation, which it fulfills through casework, law reform, research and advocacy. It has been closely following events in the aftermath of September 11 insofar as they have negatively impacted on the rule of law and international human rights generally, and the scourge of torture in particular.

The Court of Appeal’s ruling is a dangerous and worrying step backwards in the international campaign to eliminate torture. What is of especially grave concern is that the UK, which had been until recently playing a leading role in this campaign, has by this decision indicated that torture can be ‘outsourced.’

Such a precedent effectively gives the go-ahead to other States to practice torture, and the second highest court in England and Wales lost a golden opportunity to strike a blow against this heinous practice which is a crime under international law as well as under UK law.

Article 15 of the UN Convention Against Torture clearly establishes:

“Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings [emphasis added], except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.”

The UK is a party to the Convention. The inadmissibility of statements extracted under torture is a firm obligation under the Convention and a crucial safeguard against torture and ill treatment. Further, as recognised by one of the judges in the Court of Appeal, it is also a guarantee for a fair trial.

The caveat provided by the ruling that “evidence” obtained by torture would not be deemed admissible when directly procured by UK agents or in whose procurement UK agents have connived is contrary to the principle that torture is a universal crime. The UK has specific legislation to prosecute alleged torturers no matter where the torture took place, so there is no logic in creating a double standard for cases where UK agents are involved.

The reasoning of the Court is not only encouraging and fostering torture at the hands of agents of other states but is effectively avoiding the duty of all courts to act as a safeguard against torture and other international crimes.

Needless to say, legitimising torture practiced abroad is contrary to international standards and to the object and purpose of the UN Convention Against Torture.

REDRESS has just published a comprehensive report entitled Terrorism, Counter -Terrorism and Torture*, highlighting how in the name of national and global security the current ‘war on terrorism’is creating a global system that allows and even promotes torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.

It describes how important safeguards against torture are being circumvented for ‘security reasons’ with a dramatic negative effect on the practice of torture and ill treatment. The Court of Appeal’s decision is a prime example of this abhorrent trend.