Annual Report: United Kingdom 2013

May 29, 2013

Annual Report: United Kingdom 2013

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  • In January, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of Omar Othman (also known as Abu Qatada), a Jordanian national whose deportation the government was seeking on national security grounds. The Court found that, although Jordan's diplomatic assurances to the UK were sufficient to mitigate the risk of torture or other ill-treatment, Omar Othman might face on return, he would be at real risk of a “flagrant denial of justice” because of the use of testimony from other people who had been tortured. In November, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled that the deportation could not go ahead because the risk of the admission of torture evidence at trial remained, despite the government's attempts to obtain further assurances. At the end of the year, the government was seeking to appeal against the ruling.
  • In April, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that five individuals facing extradition to the USA on terrorism-related charges would not be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment if they were convicted and imprisoned in a “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado. All five men were extradited to the USA on 5 October.

Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM) replaced the previous “control order regime” in January. Although narrower in scope than the previous control order regime, TPIM can restrict the liberty, movement and activities of people suspected of terrorism-related activities, on the basis of secret material. As of 30 November 10 TPIM notices were in force.

Legal and policy developments

In May, the government published the Justice and Security Bill which provided for the expansion of “closed material procedures” to civil cases which the government claimed gave rise to national security concerns. These procedures allow the government to use secret evidence presented to the court behind closed doors and from which the claimant, her/his lawyer and the public are excluded. The Bill also contained provisions to end the ability of courts to order the disclosure of “sensitive” information, including information pertaining to alleged human rights violations, which would assist individuals in a case against a third party. NGOs, lawyers and the media raised serious concerns that the Bill contradicted principles of fairness and open justice and would hinder efforts by victims of human rights violations to secure disclosure of material related to those violations before the courts. The Bill contained some limited provisions to improve oversight of the intelligence services.

Civil society and NGOs raised concerns about the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act – which entered into force in May. They feared it might restrict access to justice, including for overseas victims of abuses by UK multinational companies.

In December, a Commission to determine whether a British Bill of Rights should be drafted to replace the Human Rights Act failed to reach a consensus in its report.

Armed forces

In July, 169 Iraqi citizens were granted permission to seek a judicial review in order to argue that the Iraq Historical Allegations Team – established to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Iraqi citizens by UK armed forces – was still not sufficiently independent despite structural changes made by the government. Lawyers for the claimants argued that a public inquiry is necessary in order to properly investigate allegations of human rights violations by UK armed forces in Iraq.

On 29 November, the Ministry of Defence announced that it would maintain its moratorium on the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities for the foreseeable future in light of new information that detainees faced “serious mistreatment” in Afghanistan. The announcement came during High Court proceedings in the case of Serdar Mohammed, an Afghan national detained by UK forces in 2010 and subsequently handed over to the Afghan intelligence service. Serdar Mohammed alleged that he was tortured while in Afghan custody and then subjected to a flagrantly unfair trial.