Instruments of torture

Just when you thought you’d had all the sensible legal decisions you were likely to get in one week, here comes another one.

Today, the British Law Lords found unanimously that the Government’s detention of 8 men without charge is unlawful because it relies on evidence which may have been obtained by torture. Lord Carswell concluded that “to allow its admission would shock the conscience, abuse or degrade the proceedings and involve the state in moral defilement“.

None of this fuss should have been necessary. The inadmissibility of evidence gained by torture is already a long-standing pillar of British law. Unfortunately, Blair’s government seem to have chosen not to bother themselves with such trifles. Even the Court of Appeal – the highest court in the land, junior only to the House of Lords and the European Court of Justice – recently decided that such evidence could be used, provided it wasn’t obtained by British authorities.

The “turn a blind eye” attitude of those ministers and judges is the very reason “rendition” (in Condi Rice’s terminology) and Guantánamo are tolerated. The torture and degrading treatment of human beings is still being done in our name, even if we are plugging our ears with our fingers and singing “la la la, can’t hear you”. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best.

Now, the increasingly deranged British government will be obliged to uphold the law. The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, must review all cases where prisoners are being held due to evidence obtained in countries where torture takes place.

So the week’s going pretty well for human rights activists. What next? Abandonment of the preposterous ID card scheme? I’ll mention it in my letter to Santa.