Head of UK’s spy watchdog to step down

May 30, 2019

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The UK’s intelligence services watchdog – IPCO (Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office) – has announced that the commissioner, Sir Adrian Fulford, will be stepping down in October.

The news comes just over a week after The Times revealed that the MoD has been maintaining a secret policy allowing Ministers to approve actions which could lead to torture. IPCO is responsible for overseeing the Government’s official policy in this area, but confirmed that they didn’t know about the MoD’s document before it was shown to them by Reprieve.

The MoD’s policy, which was revealed through FOI requests by The Rendition Project, suggests Ministers can approve action carrying a serious risk of torture if “the potential benefits justify accepting the risk and legal consequences”. It also makes a provision for Ministers to pre-approve lists of individuals about whom information may be shared despite a serious risk they could face mistreatment.

It is at odds with the Government’s ‘official’ torture policy, known as The Consolidated Guidance, which is currently subject to an ongoing public consultation by IPCO. IPCO’s review was ordered after the Intelligence and Security Committee published a report last year revealing new details about post-9/11 UK involvement in torture and mistreatment.

In response to an Urgent Question about the policy in Parliament last week, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said she would review the MoD’s policy, but that “I want to wait until the commissioner’s advice has been received. I understand that will take only a few weeks.”

However, the Secretary of State did not commit to amending the MoD’s policy in the meantime, nor did she commit to an exact timeline for when IPCO’s recommendations would be published by Downing Street.

Commenting, Reprieve’s Deputy Director Dan Dolan, said: “All eyes are on IPCO after last week’s revelations, and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the Commissioner’s review of the UK’s rules on torture. As things stand, the various different policies floating around Whitehall appear to be suggesting Ministers can authorise torture. But the law is unequivocal: torture is illegal. We need to know what today’s news means for the Commissioner’s overdue recommendations, which the Defence Secretary promised would be delivered ‘within weeks’ in order to resolve this issue”.