JUSTICE welcomes Supreme Court judgment on government failure to seek death penalty assurances

On 25 March 2020, the UK Supreme Court handed down judgment in Elgizouli v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020] UKSC 10. The case concerned El Shafee ElSheikh and Alexanda Kotey: two former UK nationals alleged to have been part of an ISIS cell in Syria responsible for the murder of several British and US citizens. In June 2018, the then Home Secretary wrote to the US Attorney General, acceding to a request for mutual legal assistance in respect of the two men, without seeking the usual assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed.

On Wednesday, an expanded bench of seven Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously that in failing to seek assurances, the UK Government had acted unlawfully. A majority of the justices found that the decision to provide information amounting to “personal data” was unlawful under Part 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018.

JUSTICE is a longstanding opponent of the death penalty in all circumstances.  In October 2018 our Director, Andrea Coomber, co-signed a letter expressing dismay at the Home Secretary’s decision. The letter stated:

“The position of this country in opposing capital punishment is clear, principled and has been adopted by all political parties. This principle has manifested itself in policies not to extradite individuals without assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed, and it has led to successive governments imposing expert controls on the materials used in executions. It is therefore astonishing that the government has reneged on this stance on this occasion.”

JUSTICE welcomes the UK Supreme Court’s decision. The prohibition on the death penalty is absolute and there should be no circumstances in which the UK may be complicit in legitimising its use.