Drone strike victim Noor Khan makes urgent appeal to UK court to review Britain’s role in the targeted killing of his father

April 23, 2012

Image of Noor Khan & Kareem Khan

Lawyers for a Pakistani student whose civilian father was killed in a drone strike have taken further legal action over the British Government’s refusal to come clean on its policy of providing intelligence to support the CIA’s illegal programme.

Noor Khan’s father was one of a number of civilians killed in a drone strike on 17 March 2011 in North Waziristan; around 50 people died after CIA missiles hit a group of elders gathered to resolve a local mining dispute.

Following reports of UK involvement in the CIA programme, Mr Khan applied for a British judicial review of UK drones policy on 13 March 2012 – but his case has still not been heard.

In an application for urgent consideration of the judicial review claim that was issued on 13 March 2012 it was explained that the court needs to take up this matter immediately given that:

(1)   The case “concerns the legality of the Secretary of State’s practice of providing locational intelligence for use in drone strikes in Pakistan.”  According to media reports cited in the claim, intelligence from the UK’s eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, is being used in US drone attacks in Pakistan, although the Government has refused to confirm or deny this publicly.

(2)   “These strikes pose a continuing risk to the lives and property of the Claimant and his remaining family members[.]”

(3)   “It is in the public interest that the issues raised by this claim be resolved with reasonable expedition.” 

Reprieve, working with Noor Khan’s solicitors, Leigh Day & Co, issued the legal challenge in relation to the UK’s role in drone strikes, stating that its practice of sharing intelligence may be unlawful, as only persons participating in an “international armed conflict” are entitled to immunity from ordinary criminal law, as “lawful combatants.”

The UK is not at war with Pakistan, and GCHQ staff who share intelligence with the CIA for use in drone attacks are therefore open to prosecution under UK law for murder. Passing intelligence to the CIA for use in drone strikes in Pakistan would therefore be unlawful. 

In response, the Foreign Secretary refused to clarify what the Government’s position is on supporting US drone strikes. This prompted a reply by Leigh Day that warned that “the Court must be vigilant to ensure that generalized and unsubstantiated claims […] are not used as a smokescreen to prevent the determination of issues that are properly within the purview of the domestic courts,” adding, “That is what the Secretary of State seeks to do in the present case.” The most recent application requests that the court make a decision on whether to hear the case by 4 May 2012.

Tara Murray, Deputy Legal Director at legal action charity Reprieve said: “Countless hundreds of civilians have been killed by CIA drone strikes. The UK court must take swift action to ensure that British Government comes clean over what its part is in this illegal campaign. It is simply not acceptable for ministers to hide behind spurious excuses, or the feeble claim that they cannot reveal anything for fear of ‘embarrassment.’”

Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day & Co Solicitors said: “This claim concerns the legality of the Secretary of State’s practice of providing locational intelligence for use in drone strikes in Pakistan. These strikes pose a continuing threat to the lives and property of our client, his remaining family members, and those who live in the area. Our client’s case clearly raises some very serious issues and it is in the public interest that it is resolved as soon as possible. It is for this reason that we have asked the court to expedite proceedings.”


1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082.

2. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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