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UK law lords rule against use of torture evidence

[JURIST] [JURIST Europe] The UK House of Lords [official website], the country's highest judicial body, ruled against the government Thursday in a case involving the use of evidence that may have been obtained through torture. The ruling prohibits the UK courts, and especially the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, from using evidence that may have been obtained through torture; it spells out the need for the government to indicate where its evidence against suspected terrorists has been obtained, and if it cannot reveal that source for national security reasons, requires it to produce other evidence sufficient to lead to a criminal conviction. The ruling will require Home Secretary Charles Clarke [official profile] to review all other cases where evidence used to convict terror suspects was obtained from sources kept secret. The case was brought on the behalf of eight men held by the UK government without charge while it tried to find other evidence it could use against them. The court's ruling will require that instead of merely demonstrating that the UK government had no active involvement in using torture to obtain the information, prosecutors must demonstrate that improper methods were not used in any step of the information procurement. Read the House of Lords judgment [official PDF text]. BBC News has local coverage.

4:56 PM ET - Reacting to the Law Lords' decision Thursday, Amnesty International UK [advocacy website] called the ruling "momentous" and praised the court [press release] for overturning "the tacit belief that torture can be condoned under certain circumstances". Echoing views articulated in October [JURIST report] by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak, Amnesty also called for the British government to drop Memoranda of Understanding [JURIST report] that have recently been entered into with countries known to torture. Under the agreements, the UK will deport terror suspects to those countries with assurances that the deportees will not be mistreated. Earlier this week, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists called on Council of Europe member states to reject any proposals [joint submission; press release] that would establish standards for the use of diplomatic assurances when transferring people to countries where there is a risk of torture. Government representatives are meeting in Strasbourg this week to consider whether to put forth minimum requirements for reliance on diplomatic assurances. Liberty UK [advocacy website] also welcomed Thursday's decision [press release], saying that "Confessions extracted through beatings, electric shocks and pulled fingernails have no place in the UK legal system." BBC News offers an analysis of the ruling and its international impact.

D. Wes Rist is Bureau Chief for JURIST Europe, reporting European legal news from a European perspective. He is based in the UK.

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