Joint Committee On Human Rights Nineteenth Report


This Report assesses the UK's compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (UNCAT), which sets out a number of guarantees against torture as well as positive obligations on states in relation to the prevention of torture. The United Kingdom, which is a party to UNCAT, regularly submits reports to the UN Committee which supervises it, detailing UK compliance with rights under the Convention. This Report takes as its starting point the latest set of Concluding Observations issued by the UN Committee in December 2004, which set out those positive developments which the UN Committee considered had taken place in the UK, as well as identifying areas of concern for compliance with the Convention. The Committee also publishes as an Appendix to this Report the Government's response to various requests for further information made by the UN Committee, which the Government transmitted to the UN in April 2006. The Committee's Report also considers the Government's human rights obligations in relation to extraordinary renditions alleged to have taken place using UK airspace or airfields.

In Chapter 2 the Committee considers the nature of the absolute prohibition on torture in customary international law, UNCAT and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as given force in UK law by the Human Rights Act. In this context the Committee reiterates its view that the absolute prohibition on deportation of persons to a country where they will face a real risk of torture, established in the ECtHR judgment Chahal v UK, precludes any balancing exercise between national security and the risk of torture and is essential to effective protection against torture. The Committee expresses its concern that the Government's intervention in a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights undermines the absolute prohibition on torture.

In a general consideration of UNCAT in UK domestic law and policy (Chapter 3), the Committee recommends early consideration of acceptance by the UK of rights of individual petition under the Convention. It also recommends that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission be designated as a monitoring body for places of detention under the Optional Protocol to the Convention. The Committee calls for the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, when it is established, to play an active role in ensuring compliance of Government policy and practice with the Convention. On the question of the use before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) of evidence which might have been obtained by torture, the Committee considers the implications of the House of Lords judgment in A(FC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, saying that the judgment will need to be interpreted and applied in a way which gives meaningful practical effect to the purpose behind Article 15 of UNCAT, that evidence obtained by torture must not be used in legal proceedings. In this Chapter the Committee also considers issues arising from the use of information which may have been obtained by torture, co-operation by the UK security and intelligence services with foreign intelligence agencies, and the defences to the criminal offence of torture contained in section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Chapter 4 of the Report deals with compliance by UK armed forces with UNCAT. The Committee recommends that the Government should expressly accept the application of all the rights and duties under UNCAT to territory abroad under the control of UK forces. The Committee has reviewed a number of classified documents supplied to it by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) about the training and guidance provided to troops in their obligations under human rights law on the treatment of detainees and civilians and accepts that broadly speaking, but with certain reservations, they provide a basis for human rights compatible action by the armed forces. On the question of alleged bullying at Deepcut barracks, the Committee concludes, in line with the Blake Review and the House of Commons Defence Committee, that there is no need for a full public inquiry into those allegations.

In Chapter 5 the Committee considers, in the light of Article 3 UNCAT, the Government's policy of seeking diplomatic assurances in order to deport people considered to be a national security risk yet who might face torture in the country to which they are returned. Taking into account the terms of the Memoranda of Understanding which have been agreed with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon, the Committee concludes that the Government's policy of reliance on diplomatic assurances against torture could well undermine established international obligations not to deport anybody if there is a serious risk of torture or ill-treatment in the receiving country.

Chapter 6 of the Report deals with the investigations of deaths involving the security forces, particularly in Northern Ireland, and Chapter 7 briefly considers deaths in custody (the subject of a comprehensive report by the previous JCHR) and prison conditions for women in Northern Ireland.

In Chapter 8 the Committee considers allegations of extraordinary renditions taking place through the UK, in the light of the Government's obligations under UNCAT. The Committee concludes that the Government has not adequately demonstrated that it has satisfied the obligation under domestic and international human rights law to investigate credible allegations of renditions, and should take active steps to ascertain more details about certain flights known to have used UK airports and suspected of involvement in extraordinary renditions. The Committee considers that an independent public inquiry would be premature at this stage, with the need for one determined by the outcome of Government investigations along the lines recommended by the Committee. For the future, the Committee makes a number of recommendations to ensure extraordinary renditions do not take place.

In Chapter 9 the Committee considers the question of the use of Attenuating Energy Projectiles (AEPs), the recent replacement for baton rounds, in serious riot situations in Northern Ireland during the summer of 2005. The Committee concludes that the use of AEPs against individual aggressors in riot situations can be justified in human rights terms as a proportionate response to serious violence threatening the lives of police or the public. It calls for clarity and consistency in the guidelines applying to use of AEPs in Northern Ireland by the police and the army.

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Prepared 26 May 2006