Admissibility of evidence extracted by torture,,59-1218041,00.html

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 inquiry� 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).

Yours, etc,
(Member, Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1997-2004),
August 13.

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.


2 Responses

  1. Brian,
    Mr Justice Laws is a classical scholar. Indeed his Earl Grey Lecture “What is Virtue?� delivered in Newcastle upon Tyne on the 18th March 2003, contained the following-:

    “It is true, of course, that what we count as evidence for a fact has changed over time, in ordinary life as well as in the court room: in ancient Athens the evidence of a slave was inadmissible unless he had been tortured.�

    Could this be the same Mr Justice Laws who at para# 454 said?

    “Any other approach seems to me to be replete with difficulty. First, I cannot believe that the law should sensibly impose on the Secretary of State a duty of solemn enquiry as to the interrogation methods used by agencies of other sovereign States. Apart from the practical unreality, I can find no sound juridical base for the imposition of such a requirement…�

  2. Brian says:

    Strange how the view changes with the viewpoint, as the law lecturer ascends even unto the Bench! And I’m reliably informed that as a barrister and pupil-master, the future Laws LJ was a strong believer in the supremacy of the judiciary over the legislature and the executive, a belief that has much to commend it, but in sad contrast to the deference he now shows towards ministers and their absolute right to decide what’s good for us (and bad for the terrorists) in this weird period which is war-time without the war.


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