Supreme Court reaffirms ancient right to liberty

Today, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court reaffirms the importance of the ancient common law writ of habeas corpus.

Mr Rahmatullah, was captured by UK forces in Iraq and handed over to US forces in 2004, in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and the US governing the transfer of prisoners.  He was detained at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, where he continues to be held today.  The Court of Appeal granted a writ of habeas corpus in 2011, which required the Foreign Secretary to write to the US Government requesting information about his continued detention.  Although the Court of Appeal discharged the writ after diplomatic exchanges between the UK and the US, the Supreme Court was asked by the Government to rule that the Court of Appeal had no jurisdiction to act at all.

JUSTICE intervened as a third party in this case, in favour of an interpretation of the law which would allow our domestic courts – on a case-by-case basis – to explore the degree of control which the UK in fact exercises over persons detained overseas, subject to our international legal obligations and the diplomatic commitments made in assurances from other States and memoranda of understanding.

Lord Kerr, giving the lead judgment, roundly rejected the Government’s case.

Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE said: 

That the UK Government relies on these diplomatic notes to justify deportation where there is a risk of torture but considered them effectively irrelevant in this case is a near perfect example of legal ‘having your cake and eating it’. 

The Supreme Court’s strong judgment reaffirms the importance of the common law guarantee of the right to liberty for all.

For further comment, please contact Angela Patrick on 020 7762 6415 (direct line) or

Read the full JUSTICE Press Release.