Court of Appeal confirms access to court in torture cases

JUSTICE welcomes the powerful judgment issued by the Court of Appeal this morning in the case of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Other v. Jack Straw & Others.

The Court affirms the right of Mr Belhaj – an opposition commander during the Libyan armed conflict of 2011 and now leader of the Libyan Al-Watan Party – and Ms Bouchar, his wife, to pursue a claim in the domestic courts against the UK officials allegedly involved in their abduction from China through Malaysia and Thailand and their transfer to Libya.

The Court stresses the failure to allow UK courts to consider the complaint would unacceptably result in a denial of a legal remedy for very grave allegations of human rights violations. The Court dismisses the view that the risk of displeasing other States could outweigh the imperative of providing access to justice to victims.

Amnesty International, ICJ, JUSTICE and REDRESS intervened jointly in this case. We welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal which now enables the very serious contention that UK authorities and officials were directly implicated in the “extraordinary rendition” of the claimants to be properly assessed by courts in the UK.

Were the High Court decision to stand, it could act as an absolute bar on litigation against the UK Government and its officials in cases where foreign agents are involved, precluding accountability for breaches of human rights. This would fatally undermine both the UK’s domestic law commitments and the international law obligations of states to ensure accountability for torture and access to effective remedies and reparation for all gross human rights violations.

Andrea Coomber, Director of JUSTICE, said:

“The Government’s case would fundamentally undercut the international rule of law and undermine the global commitment to remedies for victims of human rights violations. The ‘they did it too’ defence traditionally hasn’t worked in the playground. Yet, the UK Government would – in expanding the ‘act of state’ doctrine and the scope of state immunity – seek to enshrine it in common law.

We welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal. States cannot be encouraged to supplement the international law of state immunity with their own pick and mix patchwork of domestic rules on justiciability.”


Read the full JUSTICE Press release

Court of Appeal Judgment available, here.