Torture inquiry details announced

6 July 2010 by

Binyam Mohamed

The details of the forthcoming wide-ranging public inquiry into British complicity with “rendition” and torture abroad have been announced by the Prime Minister.

He also announced the public release of guidance, formerly secret, on the questioning of suspects overseas, and that a new committee is to review the use of secret evidence in court proceedings.

The statement can be read in full here. Contrary to some reports, the new inquiry is to be judge-led. It will be headed by Sir Peter Gibson, a retired Court of Appeal Judge, who amongst other things headed up the Omagh bombing intelligence review in  2008, and currently is serving as the Intelligence Services Commissioner, a post which involves reviewing actions taken by the Secretary of State under the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the activities of British intelligence.

He will be joined by two others on the panel: Dame Janet Paraskeva, head of the Civil Service Commissioners, and Peter Riddell, former journalist and senior fellow at the Institute for Government.

Report by end of 2011

The Prime Minister said the inquiry would begin by the end of this year and be completed within a year. This sounds fairly ambitious, given that there are purportedly hundreds of thousands of documents which will be disclosed by the intelligence services and which have been the subject of a number of recent court hearings. The Inquiry will have access to all Government documents, and the head of the civil service and the intelligence service are to cooperate fully, said the Prime Minister.

Moreover, the Inquiry will not start until the criminal case against the intelligence services relating to allegations of complicity in torture is complete, and until there is “progress” in a number of civil claims which are being made against the Government by former detainees such as Binyam Mohamed.

Not fully public, as expected

It will not be a fully public inquiry. The Prime Minister said that the public must “be realistic” in terms of their expectations for what will and will not be held publicly. This was to be expected, given the highly sensitive nature of much of the intelligence evidence which will be examined.

When it came to power the Coalition government promised a wide-scale inquiry into complicity in torture by the British government during the ‘war on terror’.

Another upcoming inquiry will also address allegations of torture by the British army. The Al Swaedy Inquiry will explore allegations of the unlawful killing and mistreatment of Iraqis by British soldiers after the “Battle of Danny Boy” in Iraq in 2004. This was set up by the previous government and follows the Baha Mousa Public Inquiry into other deaths in Iraq, which has just completed its oral hearings, most of which were held in public.

New approach to secret evidence

Another interesting announcement was made by the Prime Minister at the end of the speech, namely that the Government is to publish a Green Paper which will set out its initial proposals for how intelligence is treated in the full range of judicial proceedings, including addressing the concerns of allies. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the MP for Kensington, is to chair the Committee for the duration of this Parliament.

This is clearly aimed at putting a stop to the constant stream of court hearings which have arisen in the past few years relating to secret evidence. Judges have repeatedly found themselves squaring off against the Government in ordering the disclosure of formerly secret documents in claims against the intelligence services, as well as in a number of other contexts (see our recent posts).

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