Doctors everywhere will welcome the House of Lords judgment outlawing torture (A and Ors v Home Sec)
The House of Lords Judicial Committee, in its judgment published yesterday, has upheld a fundamental principle of law, that a person is innocent until proven guilty. This is a huge relief, said Dr Peter Hall, the Chair of Doctors for Human Rights. The Law Lords have ruled that locking away people indefinitely is not just inhumane but illegal. Most of those locked away, in a very restricted environment under Part 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA) for the last 3 years; have developed serious mental illnesses including suicidal depression, psychosis and or post traumatic stress disorder. To detain suspects indefinitely with no charge or opportunity to challenge the evidence or its provenance easily leads to a breakdown and is not only inhumane but violates the right to health.
A special nine-judge panel of the House of Lords Judicial Committee had convened on October 4 2004 to consider the lawfulness of government powers arising from the ATCSA, which permits foreign terrorism suspects to be indefinitely detained without trial or charge. The powers were introduced in the wake of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. This case is an appeal from an October 2002 Court of Appeal decision that indefinite detention is compatible with British and international law.
The 2001 law allows the Home Secretary to certify a person if he has a reasonable belief that the person threatens national security and a suspicion that the person is an international terrorist or has links with an international terrorist group. The standard of evidence required is far lower than that needed for a conviction in a criminal prosecution or a civil case, in that it can be based on evidence that would be inadmissible in a criminal court. Certification is based largely on classified information which is withheld from the public, the detainees and their lawyers. Such information, which might have been obtained from suspects tortured overseas, cannot be challenged.
Doctors everywhere will welcome the House of Lords judgment. Doctors work gives them an appreciation that to invade another human body can only be justified in order to repair it and never to damage it. To rely on information obtained in this way would make the UK complicit in torture, something no doctor could countenance.