UK Govt admits defeat over claim renditions court case will damage UK-US relations
The British Government admitted defeat in court today over its claims that a renditions case could not be heard for fear of embarrassing the US.
Government QC James Eadie told the court that he accepted they had “come second” when it came to arguments over “Foreign Act of State” – the theory that a British court cannot hear cases where the UK has cooperated with another state in wrongdoing.
Today’s hearing concerned Yunus Rahmatullah, who was seized by UK forces in Iraq in 2004 before being handed over to the US and ‘rendered’ to Bagram, Afghanistan. Mr Rahmatullah suffered years of torture before finally being released in June this year.
The UK long denied any involvement in rendition, before being forced to correct the record in Parliament in 2008, when then-Defence Secretary John Hutton finally publicly admitted that the rendition of Mr Rahmatullah and another man, Amanatullah Ali, had taken place.
Today’s hearing also considered written testimony from a former senior US Ambassador, Thomas Pickering, who contradicted the UK Government’s claim that hearing the case would endanger UK-US relations. In written testimony, Ambassador Pickering stated that “I firmly believe that adjudicating Mr Rahmatullah’s case in UK courts is highly unlikely to cause damage to the relations or national security cooperation between the US and UK," adding that the UK Government’s claims “misunderstand the value the United States places on the rule of law.”
The hearing came in the wake of a recent Court of Appeal ruling that a separate renditions case should be heard, despite similar claims by the British Government that doing so would damage US-UK relations. In Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and anor v Jack Straw and ors, the judges ruled that “the stark reality is that unless the English courts are able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations against the executive will never be subjected to judicial investigation,” and the case should therefore go ahead.
Commenting, Kat Craig, legal director at charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Rahmatullah, said: “It is important to remember that this is a case concerning a man who was subjected to some of the worst abuses of the ‘war on terror.’ The Government’s increasingly desperate attempts to stop it from being heard are shameful, and must stop.”
Sapna Malik, Partner at Leigh Day said: “As the Court of Appeal has made clear, in cases involving allegations of grave human rights abuses in which the British government has played a part, there is a compelling public interest in the British courts examining the allegations rather than throwing such cases out, even if there is a risk of displeasing our allies by doing so. Given the gravity of the allegations raised in Mr Rahmatullah’s case, it is right that the British government has today conceded that it is bound by this principle. What is frustrating for our clients, however, is that rather than allowing the Courts to get on with the pressing task of examining these very troubling allegations, there is yet further delay as the Government insists on appealing and pursuing its untenable position all the way up to the Supreme Court.”