Government seeks secret trial in MI6 ‘rendition’ case
July 4, 2017
The Government will apply for a secret hearing in a challenge to a prosecution decision for the first time in a case stemming from the involvement of a senior MI6 officer in the abduction and ‘rendition’ of two families to Gaddafi’s Libya, it emerged today.
The move came today in a hearing in the case of Libyan Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar. The couple were seized and ‘rendered’ to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004 in a joint CIA-MI6-Libyan operation. Last June, after Scotland Yard recommended that criminal charges be brought, the Crown Prosecution Service declined to charge the lead suspect – former MI6 official Sir Mark Allen. The couple are challenging the decision.
The Foreign Secretary and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, are seeking to avoid the public disclosure of documents detailing the reasons it was decided not to prosecute. At the High Court today, lawyers for the DPP and the Foreign Office said they would apply to have the entire challenge heard in secret.
Lord Chief Justice Thomas expressed surprise at the DPP’s approach to the victims, saying: “I have never seen a case like this where the DPP has refused, in effect, to set out proper reasons you’re not prosecuting.” He added: “If this was a murder case or a rape case, it would be inconceivable that the position taken by your client would be taken.”
The Foreign Office and DPP will now apply to withhold the decision documents from the victims by means of a controversial ‘section 6’ application under the Justice and Security Act 2013. This has never before been done in a judicial review relating to a criminal prosecution decision. The 2013 Act specifically excludes “criminal cause or matter” from areas where a wholly secret trial is available to Government.
Commenting, Cori Crider, lawyer for the couple at the human rights organization Reprieve, said:
“We already knew MI6 and the Foreign Office were desperate to keep this case out of open court, but British prosecutors are meant to be independent – especially when they are investigating senior UK officials. DPP Alison Saunders’ approach has been to adopt the Foreign Office’s line wholesale, giving the victims no reasons, no evidence, and – as the Lord Chief Justice put it today – no facts about her decision not to prosecute. If our top prosecutor really cares about justice being done, she will let the victims see the evidence, and ensure that Sir Mark Allen answers in court for his actions.”
Notes to Editors:
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org, or +44 (0) 207 553 8140.
2. The Foreign Office is simultaneously facing a civil claim from Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudhcar, who are seeking a token £1 from each defendant and a public apology.
3. The government will apply for its secret hearing by August 8. A further hearing on whether secret trials legally apply to these kinds of cases is slated for September. A ‘rolled-up hearing’ of all issues is due in the autumn.