Judgments - A (FC) and others (FC) (Appellants) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) (2004)A and others (Appellants) (FC) and others v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) (Conjoined Appeals)

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    86.  It is true that there are no cases in which statements from third parties have been held inadmissible on the ground that they had been obtained by torture. But the reason is not because such statements have been admitted in an ordinary English court. That has never happened. It is because ever since the late 17th century, any statements made by persons not testifying before the court have been excluded, whatever the circumstances in which they were made. There was no need to consider whether they had been obtained by torture. They were simply rejected as hearsay. One must therefore try to imagine what the judges would have said if there had been no hearsay rule. Is it credible that, while rejecting a confession obtained by torture from the accused, they would have admitted a confession incriminating the accused which had been obtained by torturing an accomplice? Such a proceeding was precisely what had been held to be unlawful in the case of Felton. It is absurd to suppose that the judges would have said that the torture was illegal but that a statement so obtained would nevertheless be admissible.

    87.  As is shown by cases like Kuruma, not all evidence unlawfully obtained is inadmissible. Still less is evidence inadmissible only because it was discovered in consequence of statements which would not themselves be admissible, as in Leathem and the leading case of R v Warickshall (1783) 1 Leach 263, in which evidence that stolen goods were found under the bed of the accused was admitted notwithstanding that the discovery was made in consequence of her inadmissible confession. But the illegalities with which the courts were concerned in Kuruma and Leathem were fairly technical. Lord Goddard was not considering torture. In any case, since Kuruma the law has moved on. English law has developed a principle, illustrated by cases like R v Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court, Ex p Bennett [1994] 1 AC 42, that the courts will not shut their eyes to the way the accused was brought before the court or the evidence of his guilt was obtained. Those methods may be such that it would compromise the integrity of the judicial process, dishonour the administration of justice, if the proceedings were to be entertained or the evidence admitted. In such a case the proceedings may be stayed or the evidence rejected on the ground that there would otherwise be an abuse of the processes of the court.

    88.  As for the rule that we do not necessarily exclude the "fruit of the poisoned tree", but admit relevant evidence discovered in consequence of inadmissible confessions, this is the way we strike a necessary balance between preserving the integrity of the judicial process and the public interest in convicting the guilty. And even when the evidence has been obtained by torture - the accomplice's statement has led to the bomb being found under the bed of the accused - that evidence may be so compelling and so independent that it does not carry enough of the smell of the torture chamber to require its exclusion. But that is not the question in this case. We are concerned with the admissibility of the raw product of interrogation under torture.

    89.  The curious feature of this case is that although the Secretary of State advances these arguments based on the limited scope of the confession rule and the general principle that all relevant evidence is admissible, he does not contend for what would be the logical consequence if he was right, namely, that evidence obtained from third parties by torture in the United Kingdom would also be admissible. He accepts that it would not. But he submits that the exclusionary rule is confined to cases in which the torture has been used by or with the connivance of agents of the United Kingdom. So the issue is a narrow one: not whether an exclusionary rule exists, but whether it should extend to torture inflicted by foreigners without the assistance or connivance of anyone for whom the United Kingdom is responsible.

    90.  Furthermore, the Secretary of State has attempted to fend off concern by the International Committee Against Torture over whether his position was in accordance with our obligations under article 15 of the UN Convention Against Torture ("Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings") by saying that he does not intend to "rely upon or present evidence where there is a knowledge or belief that torture has taken place". No doubt he thought that in addition to being an international obligation, that was the least that decency required. But the Secretary of State insists that this is a matter of policy which he is free to change or depart from. So the question remains over whether such evidence is admissible as a matter of English law.

    91.  The answer to that question depends upon the purpose of the rule excluding evidence obtained by torture, which, as we have seen, the Secretary of State largely admits to exist. Is it to discipline the executive agents of the state by demonstrating that no advantage will come from torturing witnesses, or is it to preserve the integrity of the judicial process and the honour of English law? If it is the former, then of course we cannot aspire to discipline the agents of foreign governments. Their torturers would probably accept with indifference the possibility that the work of their hands might be rejected by an English court. If it is the latter, then the rule must exclude statements obtained by torture anywhere, since the stain attaching to such evidence will defile an English court whatever the nationality of the torturer. I have no doubt that the purpose of the rule is not to discipline the executive, although this may be an incidental consequence. It is to uphold the integrity of the administration of justice.

    92.  The Secretary of State's second argument is that while there may be a general rule which excludes all evidence obtained by torture in an ordinary criminal trial, proceedings before SIAC are different. The function of SIAC under section 25 of the 2001 Act is not to convict anyone of an offence but to decide whether there are reasonable grounds for belief or suspicion that a person's presence in the United Kingdom is a risk to national security or that he is a terrorist: subsection (2)(a). There is no restriction upon the information which the Secretary of State may consider in forming such a belief or suspicion. In the exercise of his functions, he may rely upon statements from any source and in some cases it may be foolish of him not to do so. If the Security Services receive apparently credible information from a foreign government that bombs are being made at an address in south London, it would be irresponsible of the Secretary of State not to instigate a search of the premises because he has a strong suspicion that the statement has been obtained by torture. So, it is said, the exclusionary rule would produce a "mismatch" between the evidence upon which the Secretary of State could rely and the evidence upon which SIAC could rely in the exercise of its supervisory jurisdiction over the Secretary of State under the Act. Furthermore, rule 44(3) of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) Rules 2003 (SI 2003/1034) specifically provides that the Commission "may receive evidence that would not be admissible in a court of law". The purpose of that rule, it is argued, is to allow SIAC to consider any evidence which could have been considered by the Secretary of State.

    93.  In my opinion the "mismatch" to which counsel for the Secretary of State refers is almost inevitable in any case of judicial supervision of executive action. It is not the function of the courts to place limits upon the information available to the Secretary of State, particularly when he is concerned with national security. Provided that he acts lawfully, he may read whatever he likes. In his dealings with foreign governments, the type of information that he is willing to receive and the questions that he asks or refrains from asking are his own affair. As I have said, there may be cases in which he is required to act urgently and cannot afford to be too nice in judging the methods by which the information has been obtained, although I suspect that such cases are less common in practice than in seminars on moral philosophy.

    94.  But the 2001 Act makes the exercise by the Secretary of State of his extraordinary powers subject to judicial supervision. The function of SIAC under section 25 is not to decide whether the Secretary of State at some particular time, perhaps at a moment of emergency, acted reasonably in forming some suspicion or belief. It is to form its own opinion, after calm judicial process, as to whether it considers that there are reasonable grounds for such suspicion or belief. It is exercising a judicial, not an executive function. Indeed, the fact that the exercise of the draconian powers conferred by the Act was subject to review by the judiciary was obviously an important reason why Parliament was willing to confer such powers on the Secretary of State.

    95.  In my opinion Parliament, in setting up a court to review the question of whether reasonable grounds exist for suspicion or belief, was expecting the court to behave like a court. In the absence of clear express provision to the contrary, that would include the application of the standards of justice which have traditionally characterised the proceedings of English courts. It excludes the use of evidence obtained by torture, whatever might be its source.

    96.  Rule 44(3) is in my opinion far too general in its terms to justify a departure from such a fundamental principle. It plainly disapplies technical rules of evidence like the hearsay rule. But I cannot for a moment imagine that anyone in Parliament who considered the statutory power to make rules of procedure for SIAC could have thought that it was authorising a rule which allowed the use of evidence obtained by torture or that the Secretary of State who made the regulations thought he was doing so. Such a provision, touching upon the honour of our courts and our country, would have to be expressly provided in primary legislation so that it could be debated in Parliament.

    97.  In my opinion therefore, there is a general rule that evidence obtained by torture is inadmissible in judicial proceedings. That leaves the question of what counts as evidence obtained by torture. What is torture and who has the burden of proving that it has been used? In Ireland v United Kingdom (1978) 2 EHRR 25 the European Court delicately refrained from characterising various interrogation techniques used by the British authorities in Northern Ireland as torture but nevertheless held them to be "inhuman treatment". The distinction did not matter because in either case there was a breach of article 3 of the Convention. For my part, I would be content for the common law to accept the definition of torture which Parliament adopted in section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, namely, the infliction of severe pain or suffering on someone by a public official in the performance or purported performance of his official duties. That would in my opinion include the kind of treatment characterised as inhuman by the European Court of Human Rights in Ireland v United Kingdom but would not include all treatment which that court has held to contravene article 3.

    98.  That leaves the question of the burden of proof, on which I am in agreement with my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham of Cornhill. In proceedings in which the appellant to SIAC may have no knowledge of the evidence against him, it would be absurd to require him to prove that it had been obtained by torture. Article 15 of the Torture Convention, which speaks of the use of torture being "established", could never have contemplated a procedure in which the person against whom the statement was being used had no idea of what it was or who had made it. It must be for SIAC, if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that to have been the case (for example, because of evidence of the general practices of the authorities in the country concerned) to make its own inquiries and not to admit the evidence unless it is satisfied that such suspicions have been rebutted. One of the difficulties about the Secretary of State's carefully worded statement that it would not be his policy to rely upon evidence "where there is a knowledge or belief that torture has taken place" is that it leaves open the question of how much inquiry the Secretary of State is willing to make. It appears to be the practice of the Security Services, in their dealings with those countries in which torture is most likely to have been used, to refrain, as a matter of diplomatic tact or a preference for not learning the truth, from inquiring into whether this was the case. It may be that in such a case the Secretary of State can say that he has no knowledge or belief that torture has taken place. But a court of law would not regard this as sufficient to rebut real suspicion and in my opinion SIAC should not do so.

    99.  In view of the great importance of this case for the reputation of English law, I have thought it right to express my opinion in my own words. But I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham of Cornhill and there is nothing in it with which I would wish to disagree.


My Lords,

    100.  I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham of Cornhill. His account of the background to this case is so complete that I hesitate to say anything that might detract from it. But it is one thing to condemn torture, as we all do. It is another to find a solution to the question that this case raises which occupies the moral high ground but at the same time serves the public interest and is practicable. Condemnation is easy. Finding a solution to the question is much more difficult. It requires much more thought. So it is on that aspect of the case in particular, after looking at the history, that I should like to concentrate.


    101.  Torture, one of most evil practices known to man, is resorted to for a variety of purposes and it may help to identify them to put this case into its historical context. The lesson of history is that, when the law is not there to keep watch over it, the practice is always at risk of being resorted to in one form or another by the executive branch of government. The temptation to use it in times of emergency will be controlled by the law wherever the rule of law is allowed to operate. But where the rule of law is absent, or is reduced to a mere form of words to which those in authority pay no more than lip service, the temptation to use torture is unrestrained. The probability of its use will rise or fall according the scale of the perceived emergency.

    102.  In the first place, torture may be used on a large scale as an instrument of blatant repression by totalitarian governments. That is what was alleged in R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex p Pinochet Ugarte (No 3) [2000] 1 AC 147, where the picture presented by the draft charges against Senator Pinochet which had been prepared by the Spanish judicial authorities was of a conspiracy. It was a conspiracy of the most evil kind - to commit widespread and systematic torture and murder to obtain control of the government and, having done so, to maintain control of government by those means for so long as might be necessary. Or it may be used in totalitarian states as a means of extracting confessions from individuals whom the authorities wish to put on trial so that they can be used against them in evidence.

    103.  The examples I have just mentioned are of torture as an instrument of power. But the use of torture to obtain confessions was also sanctioned by the judiciary in many civil law jurisdictions, and it remained part of their criminal procedure until the latter part of the 17th century. This was never part of English criminal procedure and, as there was no need for it, its use for this purpose was prohibited by the common law. But warrants for the use of torture were issued from time to time by the Privy Council against prisoners in the Tower under the Royal Prerogative. Four hundred years ago, on 4 November 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested when he was preparing to blow up the Parliament which was to be opened the next day, together with the King and all the others assembled there. Two days later James I sent orders to the Tower authorising torture to be used to persuade Fawkes to confess and reveal the names of his co-conspirators. His letter stated that "the gentler tortours" were first to be used on him, and that his torturers were then to proceed to the worst until the information was extracted out of him. On 9 November 1605 he signed his confession with a signature that was barely legible and gave the names of his fellow conspirators. On 27 January 1606 he and seven others were tried before a special commission in Westminster Hall. Signed statements in which they had each confessed to treason were shown to them at the trial, acknowledged by them to be their own and then read to the jury: Carswell, Trial of Guy Fawkes (1934), pp 90-92.

    104.  This practice came to an end in 1640 when the Act of 16 Charles I, c 10, abolished the Star Chamber. The jurisdiction of the Privy Council in all matters affecting the liberty of the subject was transferred to the ordinary courts, which until then in matters of State the executive could by-pass. Torture continued to be used in Scotland on the authority of the Privy Council until the end of the 17th century, but the practice was brought to an end there after the Union by section 5 of the Treason Act 1708. That section, which remains in force subject only to one minor amendment (see Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1977, Sch I, Part IV) and applies to England as well as Scotland, declares that no person accused of any crime can be put to torture.

    105.  We are not concerned in this case with the use of torture for either of the purposes that I have mentioned so far. But they do not exhaust the uses for which torture may be sanctioned by governments. The use with which this case is concerned is the extraction of information from those who are thought to have something that may be of use to them by the security services. Information - the gathering of intelligence - is a crucial weapon in the battle by democracies against international terrorism. Experience has shown from the beginning of time that those who are hostile to the state are reluctant to part with information that might disrupt or inhibit their activities. They usually have to be persuaded to release it. Handled responsibly, the methods that are used fall well short of what could reasonably be described as torture. But in unscrupulous hands the means of persuasion are likely to be violent and intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. In the hands of the most unscrupulous the only check on the level of violence is likely to be the need to keep the person alive so that, if he has any information that may be useful, he can communicate it to his interrogators.

    106.  It was not unknown during the 17th century, while torture was still being practised here, for statements extracted by this means to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings to obtain the conviction of third parties. J H Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Regime (University of Chicago Press, 1977), p 94 has shown that a warrant was issued by the Privy Council in 1551 for the torture of persons committed to the Tower on suspicion of being involved in the alleged treason of the Duke of Somerset. The confession obtained from William Crane was read, in Crane's absence, at the Duke's trial: Heath, Torture and English Law: An Administrative and Legal History from the Plantagenets to the Stuarts (1982), p 75.

    107.  When the jurisdiction of the Star Chamber was abolished in England prisoners were transferred to Scotland so that they could be forced by the Scots Privy Council which still used torture to provide information to the authorities. This is illustrated by the case of Robert Baillie of Jerviswood whose trial took place in Edinburgh in December 1684. A detailed description of the events of that trial can be found in Fountainhall's Decisions of the Lords of Council and Session, vol I, 324-326: for a summary, see Torture [2004] 53 ICLQ 807, 818-820. Robert Baillie had been named by William Spence, who was suspected of being involved in plotting a rebellion against the government of Charles II, as one of his co-conspirators. Spence gave this information having been arrested in London and taken to Edinburgh, where he was tortured. Baillie in his turn was arrested in England and taken to Scotland, where he was put on trial before a jury in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. All objections having been repelled by the trial judge, the statement which Spence had given under torture was read to the jury. Baillie was convicted the next day, and the sentence of death that was passed on him was executed that afternoon. There is a warning here for us. "Extraordinary rendition", as it is known today, is not new. It was being practised in England in the 17th century.

    108.  Baron Hume, Commentaries on the Law of Scotland respecting Crimes (Edinburgh, 1844), vol ii, p 324, described the use of torture for the purpose of discovering transgressors as a barbarous engine. So it was. It had increasingly come to be recognised that there was a level beyond which, however great the threat and however imminent its realisation, resort to this means of extracting information was unacceptable. The need of the authorities to resort to extreme measures for their own protection had, of course, disappeared with the arrival of the period of stability that came with the ending of the Stuart dynasty. But one can detect in Hume's language a revulsion against its use which would have certainly been voiced by the judges of his time, had it been necessary for them to do so.

    109.  The threat of rebellion and revolution having disappeared, the developing common law did not find it necessary to grapple with the question whether statements obtained by the use of torture should continue to be admissible against third parties in any proceedings as evidence. There is no doubt that they would be caught today by the rule that evidence of the facts referred to in a statement made by a third party, however that statement was obtained, is hearsay: Teper v The Queen [1952] AC 480, 486, per Lord Normand. Alison, Principles and Practice of the Criminal Law of Scotland (1833), vol ii, 510-11 states that hearsay is in general inadmissible evidence. He bases this proposition on the best evidence rule, and declares that the rule is "firmly established both in the Scotch and English law". But we cannot be absolutely confident that judges in the latter part of the 19th century would have been prepared to rely on the hearsay rule to exclude such evidence. In R v Birmingham Overseers (1861) 1 B & S 763, 767, Cockburn CJ said:

    "People were formerly frightened out of their wits about admitting evidence, lest juries should go wrong. In modern times we admit the evidence, and discuss its weight."

If, as this passage indicates, the hearsay objection went only to the weight of the evidence, the judges would have had to face up to the more fundamental question whether at common law it was an abuse of the judicial process to rely on it.

    110.  I think that it is plain that the barbarity of the practice, as Hume describes it, would have led inevitably to the conclusion that the use against third parties of statements obtained in this way as evidence in any proceedings was unacceptable. This would have been a modest but logical extension of the rule already enshrined in statute by section 5 of the Treason Act 1708, that no person accused of a crime could be put to torture. The effect of that section was to render confession evidence obtained by this means inadmissible. It would have been a small but certain step to apply the same rule to statements obtained in the same way from third parties.

    111.  This is the background to the ratification by the United Kingdom of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1984 and entered into force on 26 June 1987. The Convention was designed to provide an international system which denied a safe haven to the official torturer. But long before it was entered into state torture was an international crime in the highest sense, as Lord Browne-Wilkinson pointed out in R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex p Pinochet Ugarte (No 3) [2000] 1 AC 147, p 198G. The rule set out in article 15 of the Convention about the use of statements obtained by the use of torture must be seen in this light. Article 15 provides:

    "Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."

    112.  This provision has not been incorporated into our domestic law, unlike the declaration that the use of torture is a crime wherever it was committed which was made part of our law by section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. But I would hold that the formal incorporation of the evidential rule into domestic law was unnecessary, as the same result is reached by an application of common law principles. The rule laid down by article 15 was accepted by the United Kingdom because it was entirely compatible with our own law. The use of such evidence is excluded not on grounds of its unreliability - if that was the only objection to it, it would go to its weight, not to its admissibility - but on grounds of its barbarism, its illegality and its inhumanity. The law will not lend its support to the use of torture for any purpose whatever. It has no place in the defence of freedom and democracy, whose very existence depends on the denial of the use of such methods to the executive.

    113.  Once torture has become acclimatised in a legal system it spreads like an infectious disease, hardening and brutalising those who have become accustomed to its use: Holdsworth, A History of English Law, vol v, p 194. As Jackson J in his dissenting opinion in Korematsu v United States, 323 US 214 (1944), 246 declared, once judicial approval is given to such conduct, it lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. A single instance, if approved to meet the threat of international terrorism, would establish a principle with the power to grow and expand so that everything that falls within it would be regarded as acceptable. Without hesitation I would hold that, subject to the single exception referred to in article 15, the admission of any statements obtained by this means against third parties is absolutely precluded in any proceedings as evidence. I would apply this rule irrespective of where, or by whom, the torture was administered.

The issue for SIAC

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