UK Government attempts to evade responsibility over part in Libyan torture
May 21, 2013
Lawyers for the UK Government today claimed that it should not be held accountable in British courts for its part in the rendition and torture of Gaddafi opponents in 2004.
Responding to a claim brought against the Government by a Libyan victim of a joint UK-US-Libyan ‘rendition,’ ministers’ lawyers argued that the case should not be tried in British courts, and even that it should not be tried at all.
Today saw the first hearing in a case brought by former anti-Gaddafi dissident Abdul-Hakim Belhaj against the UK Government over its part in the detention and forcible transfer of him and his pregnant wife to Libyan prisons in 2004. Mr Belhaj is also suing then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and former senior MI6 officer Sir Mark Allen, who was the author of a note to Gaddafi’s spy chief pointing out that the intelligence which allowed the rendition “was British.” Following his rendition, Mr Belhaj was tortured and imprisoned until his eventual release in 2010.
Government lawyers were today contesting the case on two bases: first, that the court still needed to determine whether the UK Government’s actions should be judged by UK law; and second, on grounds of ‘justiciability’ – effectively, by claiming UK authorities are immune from legal proceedings in this case. Their arguments have serious implications, not least under international law, as the UK is signed up to the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which bans torture and requires states to have an effective remedy for victims of torture. The Court today ordered that these issues could proceed as preliminary issues before the full trial.
Reprieve Legal Director Kat Craig said: “This is clearly an attempt to waste time and kick this case into the long grass. We already know from documents found after the fall of Gaddafi that the UK worked to render his opponents into his hands – despite his reputation as a notorious torturer. This was the grim underbelly of Tony Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert. The Government knows that if this case is tried, they will lose – this is a cynical and shameful attempt to put off justice and accountability for as long as possible.”
Sapna Malik from law firm Leigh Day said: “Today’s decision is frustrating. While we’re confident about winning the unpalatable legal points raised by the Defendants, litigating these issues in the interim will serve only to delay getting to the heart of this case and ultimately holding the Government to account for their apparent involvement in this sordid affair.”