Commission to argue that Government torture guidance violates the law

27 June 2011

The Equality and Human Rights Commission will tomorrow argue that the Government’s guidance, which sets out the approach that British intelligence officers should take in seeking information from people held by authorities overseas, is not consistent with either domestic or international law.

The guidance was published following evidence that UK security and intelligence officers involved in counter terrorism operations may have been complicit in the torture of detainees by foreign governments.

The guidance sets out the steps which must be taken by British intelligence officers before they interview detainees held by authorities overseas, seek intelligence from detainees in the custody of foreign countries or solicit the detention of a person by a foreign country.

The guidance provides that officers cannot proceed with any of the actions if they “know or believe” that torture will take place. However, there is no such prohibition where the officer knows there is a “serious risk of torture”. In these cases, the guidance suggests that the officer can proceed provided the risks can be mitigated through “caveats or assurances” or if Ministers have been consulted.

The Commission will argue that the guidance leaves officers in the field with the mistaken and unintended expectation that they will be protected from personal criminal liability in situations where they may, unwittingly, be liable for crimes.

The legal action is being taken against the Prime Minister and three others, including the Secretary of State for Defence.

The Commission wrote to the Prime Minister in September 2010 asking him to bring the guidance in line with the Government’s own commitments. When no answer was received, the Commission filed judicial review proceedings.

John Wadham, Group Director Legal, at the Commission said:

“No one would deny the vital role that intelligence gathering plays in counter terrorism. However, intelligence tainted by torture comes at a price; a price that Britain should not be willing to pay.

“The Government needs to ensure that its own commitments are reflected fully in the guidance to officers in the field so they can be sure of their position.”


For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to editors

The hearing of The Equality and Human Rights Commission and The Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Secretary of State for the Home Department and The Attorney General will take place at the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand from Tuesday 28 June to Thursday 30 June 2011.

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.