ISC desperately needs reform after 15 years of failures – Reprieve

February 24, 2015

Image of hands hanging out of a prison cell

Commenting on the resignation of the Chair of the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Clare Algar, Executive Director of legal charity Reprieve said:

“Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s resignation should not distract from the ISC’s central problem: that it has been hopelessly inadequate when it comes to holding our security services to account.

“From UK complicity in CIA torture to mass-surveillance, the ISC has missed every major security-related scandal of the past 15 years.  It has fallen to the press, the courts and NGOs to expose these events, with the ISC’s members only discovering them by reading the newspapers.

“It is surely now time to look again at the wider problem of a lack of Government accountability in Britain. The ISC desperately needs real reform, if it is to do its job of holding the most secretive parts of the state to account.

“Right now, the Government should return to its original promise to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in torture.  The ISC has never been the right body to examine this – as the Prime Minister himself once acknowledged.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: donald.campbell [AT] / +44 (0) 207 553 8166

2. In July 2010, David Cameron announced the establishment of an independent, judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in CIA rendition and torture, stressing that the ISC was not the right body to take on the issue.

However, in December 2013, his Government announced that the judge-led inquiry would be shelved, with the task handed instead to the ISC.  For further info, see Reprieve’s website.

Mr Cameron’s original, 2010 comments on how the ISC should not be responsible for the torture inquiry are as follows:

“I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work. For public confidence, and for independence from Parliament, party and Government, it is right to have a judge-led inquiry. I say to Opposition Members who take a different view that these events relate to 2002-03. If the ISC was the right answer, why on earth did it not come up with it in the previous years?…in answer to why there is an inquiry rather than the Intelligence and Security Committee doing the job, the inquiry will be led by a judge and will be fully independent of Parliament, party and Government. That is what we need to get to the bottom of the case. The fact that it is led by a judge will help ensure that we get it done properly.”

See See Hansard, 6 July 2010.