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11 September 2018

Human rights legal challenge over UK torture authorisations

Human rights group launches a legal challenge against UK government for authorising criminal acts abroad as calls for an enquiry mount.


The UK government is facing a legal challenge over its use of a law that can be deployed to authorise the involvement of British intelligence officers in torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Criminal acts abroad

Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 allows ministers to permit UK personnel to commit criminal acts abroad. In June two reports from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) revealed that current and former cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Theresa May, believe they can authorise operations even when there is a serious risk of complicity in torture or mistreatment. The ISC reports detailed numerous cases of UK involvement in torture and mistreatment and reveals that both security MI6 and GCHQ routinely apply for such authorisations when they become aware that their staff could become involved in such acts.

First steps

The challenge comes from human rights organisation Reprieve. They have written a formal letter to the government, the first required step in legal proceedings, seeking clarity on the precise scope of section 7 authorisations, on the basis that any authorisation resulting in the risk of UK involvement in torture and mistreatment is in breach of the absolute prohibition on torture contained in article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, said ‘in recent months the Prime Minister has had to apologise for the UK government’s role in the ‘appalling’ kidnap and rendition of a pregnant woman and her husband, tried and failed to get away with a ‘light-touch’ review of the torture policy, faced a damning report that revealed hundreds of cases of British complicity in mistreatment, and heard cross-party calls for a full judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in torture grow ever louder.’

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