Admissibility of evidence extracted by torture
Letters to the Editor: The Times, August 16, 2004
Admissibility of terror evidence
One of the many questionable features of the Court of Appeal judgment on the admissibility in terrorism cases of certain evidence allegedly obtained by torture (report, August 12), and one on which there has been surprisingly little comment, is Lord Justice Laws’s statement that he could not believe "that the law should sensibly impose on the Secretary of State a duty of solemn inquiry as to the interrogation methods used by agencies of other sovereign statesâ€?.
How else are the Home Secretary and his advisers to assess the reliability of information, if not by the most rigorous and "solemn inquiryâ€? into precisely where it came from and exactly how it was obtained, given that information extracted by torture, or even by severe duress short of torture, is manifestly unreliable compared with information got by legitimate means?
This was plainly an occasion for the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and, when that court failed to act, the Court of Appeal, to issue a ringing condemnation of reliance on evidence obtained by torture, wherever and by whomever practised, as a basis for imprisoning people indefinitely and without trial, on grounds of principle, law and practical common sense alike.
If, when the case goes to the House of Lords, the law lords fail to remedy the deficiencies of the lower courts’ judgments, let us hope that Parliament will do so as a matter of urgency (although David Blunkett’s instant reaction to the Appeal Court’s judgment inspires little confidence that it will).
(Member, Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1997-2004),
There’s much more to be said about this judgement, of course, and with luck it will all be said before the House of Lords gives its verdict on this dire effort by the Court of Appeal.