• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: United Kingdom 2013

May 29, 2013


Head of state Queen Elizabeth II

Head of government David Cameron

Criminal investigations were announced in two alleged rendition cases. As a result of these new criminal investigations the Detainee Inquiry was closed early. Draft legislation was published which would allow the government to rely on secret evidence across the civil justice system in national security cases. A moratorium on the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities was maintained.

Torture and other ill-treatment

On 12 January, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that, following an investigation, criminal charges would not be brought in two cases against UK intelligence officers alleged to be involved in the ill-treatment of detainees abroad. The first case related to involvement in the torture and other ill-treatment of Binyam Mohamed, the second to an unnamed individual held by US authorities at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in January 2002. However, the MPS stated that it had received other allegations, and was considering possible further criminal investigations.

Criminal investigations were announced, however, into UK involvement in the alleged rendition of Sami al Saadi and Abdel Hakim Belhaj to Libya in 2004 and their reported torture and ill-treatment. In December, Sami al Saadi and his family accepted a financial settlement from the government. A civil claim for damages brought by Abdel Hakim Belhaj against UK authorities remained pending at the end of the year.

On 18 January, the government announced that because of the new criminal investigations concerning alleged renditions to Libya, the Detainee Inquiry would conclude early. The Detainee Inquiry had been established in 2010 to examine allegations of UK involvement in human rights violations of individuals detained abroad in the context of counter-terrorism operations. However, it fell short of international human rights standards for effective, independent and thorough investigations. On 27 June, the Detainee Inquiry provided the government with a report on its work to date, which remained unpublished at the end of year.

In September, a European Parliament report called on the UK and other states to disclose all necessary information on all suspect aeroplanes associated with the CIA rendition programme and their territory.

In October, the High Court rejected government attempts to strike out the claims of three Kenyan nationals who were tortured by British colonial authorities in Kenya during the 1950s. The Court ruled that despite the passage of time, the evidence was so extensive that a fair trial was still possible.

Counter-terror and security

The government continued to rely on unreliable and unenforceable diplomatic assurances when seeking to deport individuals alleged to pose a threat to national security to countries where they would be at risk of grave human rights violations, including torture.

  • 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.

  • In October, the Supreme Court upheld the writ of habeas corpus in the case of Yunus Rahmatullah. He was captured by UK forces in Iraq in February 2004 and handed over to US forces, which transferred him to Afghanistan where he was detained without charge. The Supreme Court stated that there was evidence that Yunus Rahmatullah's detention was unlawful under the Geneva Conventions and that the UK was obliged to request his return. However, the Supreme Court found that the USA's refusal to transfer Yunus Rahmatullah to UK custody was sufficient to demonstrate that the UK could not secure his release.

Police and security forces

In January, two men were convicted of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. In 1999, an inquiry into the case found that the police investigation had been flawed “by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers”.

In July, a police officer was found not guilty of manslaughter in the case of Ian Tomlinson who died during the G-20 demonstrations in London in April 2009. In an inquest in 2011, a jury had returned a verdict of unlawful killing, finding that Ian Tomlinson had died of internal bleeding after being struck with a baton and pushed to the ground by a police officer. In September, an MPS disciplinary panel ruled that the police officer's action constituted gross misconduct.

Northern Ireland

Incidents of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland continued. On 1 November, David Black, a prison officer, was shot dead; dissident republicans claimed responsibility. A number of elected representatives and journalists experienced threats of or actual violence from loyalist paramilitary or anonymous sources. Public disorder during the year resulted in injuries to police officers and others.

In October, an inquiry established by the Northern Ireland Executive, into institutional child abuse during the period 1922-1995, commenced its work.

In November, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary began a review of the work of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which was established to re-examine all deaths attributed to the conflict in Northern Ireland. The review will focus on whether HET investigations into cases involving the army are compliant with human rights and policing standards.

  • In December, the Police Service of Northern Ireland confirmed that a criminal investigation into the killing of 13 civil rights marchers by British soldiers on 30 January 1972, on a day known as Bloody Sunday, would begin in 2013.
  • In December, the High Court of Northern Ireland quashed a 2011 report by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland into the killing of six men in a paramilitary attack on a bar in Loughinisland, County Down, in June 1994. A new Police Ombudsman took office in July and began reforms seeking to ensure the quality, thoroughness and independence of historical investigations into police misconduct.
  • In December, a review into the killing of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989 identified that numerous and serious levels of state collusion had occurred in the killing, but found that there was no “overarching state conspiracy”. The Prime Minister apologized to his family. The review however fell far short of being the independent, thorough and effective inquiry required and that the family had been promised.

Violence against women and girls

In May, the government announced a new initiative aimed at preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, stating that it would be a key focus of the UK G8 Presidency in 2013.

In June, the UK signed the Council of Europe's Convention preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

In November, new laws in England and Wales were introduced to tackle stalking, making such behaviour a criminal offence in a bid to improve people's safety.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In July, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges in connection with the death of Jimmy Mubenga in 2010. There were, however, witness statements available that he had been dangerously restrained and suggestions that there had been shortcomings in the security guards' training. Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan national, had collapsed and died after being restrained by private security guards during an attempt to deport him to Angola.

In October, the authorities attempted to forcibly return a Syrian national back to Syria, contrary to the advice of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. The removal was only halted following a High Court order. In December, the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) issued a country guidance decision finding that, in the current context, no asylum-seekers should be forcibly returned to Syria in light of the risks that they would face.

Sri Lankan nationals were forcibly returned despite credible evidence of the real risk of torture and other grave human rights violations they would face on return.

Amnesty International visits/reports

  • Amnesty International delegates visited Northern Ireland in March, September and December and observed court proceedings in England throughout the year.
  • UK: Detainee Inquiry closure presents an opportunity for real accountability (EUR 45/005/2012)
  • United Kingdom: Submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights – The Justice and Security Green Paper (EUR 45/006/2012)
  • UK: Abu Qatada still at risk of torture and unfair trial (EUR 45/010/2012)
  • Left in the dark: The use of secret evidence in the United Kingdom (EUR 45/014/2012)
  • USA must respect rights of individuals extradited from the UK (AMR 51/086/2012)
  • UK ordered to continue moratorium on detainee transfers in Afghanistan (ASA 11/020/2012)
  • Libyan rendition case shows it's time for UK to come clean (PRE01/206/2012)