England: High Court to hear challenge over government refusal to hold judge-led inquiry into torture and rendition

The High Court of England and Wales will hear a judicial review challenge over the UK government’s refusal to hold a fully independent, judge-led inquiry into British involvement in rendition and torture, a judge has ruled.

Human rights NGO Reprieve, politicians David Davis and Dan Jarvis launched judicial review proceedings against the government in October of this year.

In granting permission for the case to proceed, Mr Justice Hilliard wrote: “The argument for an unmet investigative obligation emerges from the history of previous investigations which were not completed…witness testimony is particularly important where records may not tell the full story…systemic failings may not be satisfactorily identified in separate proceedings initiated by individuals. Although some lessons have undoubtedly been learned and improvements made, it is open to argument whether all the necessary lessons can have been learned if the facts have not been fully established.”

Mr Justice Hilliard referenced the Intelligence and Security Committee’s (ISC) findings extensively in his judgment granting permission for the judicial review to proceed:

“…the ISC found 232 cases recorded where UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to liaison services after they knew or suspected (or should have suspected) that a detainee had been or was being mistreated. [And], there is reference to the impossibility of establishing the full facts from the documents alone. More generally, the ISC had said…that it was essential to hear from witnesses if the inquiry was to be thorough and comprehensive and in a position to reach properly considered, balanced and fair views about the facts. In the event, witnesses were not made available.”

In July of this year, then-Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington told Parliament: “I can confirm today that the government has decided that it is not necessary to establish a further inquiry. There is no policy reason to do so, given the extensive work already undertaken to improve policies and practices in this area. The government’s position is also that there is no legal obligation.”

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said: “We are very pleased that the court has found that the government has a case to answer over its failure to properly investigate ‘war on terror’-era torture and rendition.

“When the government broke its promise to survivors of torture, it also broke the law. The powerful must be held to account so that victims can move on with their lives, but just as importantly because if we do not fully investigate our past mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.”