Al Rawi disclosure evidence of torture complicity?
15 July 2010
The Guardian have published a number of documents which have been disclosed to the High Court as part of a claim for compensation by men claiming they were mistreated abroad with the knowledge of UK security services.
The documents were disclosed as part of the ongoing case of Al Rawi and Ors v The Security Services. Although the case has not yet been heard, it has been the subject of a number of high-profile applications for secret documents which the Government have generally lost. We posted recently on the judgment of Mr Justice Silber leading to the disclosure of some of the most recent documents which the Guardian have published (see also here).
Interestingly, the newspaper also report that the Government “has identified up to 500,000 documents that may be relevant, and says it has deployed 60 lawyers to scrutinise them, a process that it suggests could take until the end of the decade.” In light of this, it is difficult to see how the upcoming public inquiry into complicity with torture will begin by the end of this year and finish by the end of 2011, as the Prime Minister suggested in his announcement.
The relationship between the civil claim in Al Rawi and the upcoming torture inquiry is not yet clear. The inquiry’s terms of reference have not been published, but it will deal with many or all of the same issues identified in the case.
The trial in Al Rawi may never arise in any event. When he announced the inquiry, the Prime Minister said that “We can’t start that inquiry while criminal investigations are ongoing. And it’s not feasible to start it when there so many civil law suits that remain unresolved.” He went on to say “we are committed to mediation with those who have brought civil claims about their detention in Guantanamo. And wherever appropriate, we will offer compensation. As soon as we’ve made enough progress, an independent Inquiry will be held.” This sounds like a reasonable indication that the Al Rawi claims may be settled before they reach court, particularly given how long full disclosure may take.
In the longer term, the Government is looking to address problems for intelligence services in having to disclose formerly secret documents. At the same time as announcing the torture inquiry, the Prime Minister also announced that a Green Paper is to be published which will set out its initial proposals for how intelligence is treated in the full range of judicial proceedings, and which will include “addressing the concerns of allies“. The committee is to be chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
If the committee seeks to restrict further potential disclosures of the type in the Al Rawi case in order to protect relationships with its international allies, this may lead to further court clashes of the type seen repeatedly in Al Rawi as well as more rebukes from the Judiciary.