High Court will hear case of UK torture and rendition victim

A High Court judge has said that a victim of UK rendition and torture can proceed with his claims against the British Government.



In a judgment handed down on 19 November, Mr Justice Leggatt found that the court would be "failing in its duty" if it did not deal with the claims of Yunus Rahmatullah, from Pakistan. Mr Rahmatullah was seized by UK forces in Iraq in 2004 and tortured before being handed over to the US and rendered to Bagram prison in Afghanistan, via the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He suffered a further decade of secret US detention before he was finally 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 publically admitted that the rendition of Yunus Rahmatullah and another man, Amanatullah Ali, had taken place.

The judgment by Mr Justice Leggatt, published this morning, confirms he was unconvinced by the Government’s ‘Foreign Act of State’ argument – the theory that a British court cannot hear cases where the UK has cooperated with another state, in this case the US, in wrongdoing. Mr Leggatt wrote: “If it is necessary to adjudicate on whether acts of US personnel were lawful… in order to decide whether the defendants violated the claimant’s legal rights, then the court can and must do so.”

Today’s judgment follows a recent Court of Appeal ruling that a separate renditions case – Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and anor v Jack Straw and ors – should be heard, despite similar claims by the British Government that doing so would damage US-UK relations.

Kat Craig, legal director at the charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Rahmatullah, said: “Yunus Rahmatullah suffered some of the most shocking abuses of the ‘war on terror’ – now we know the Government’s attempt to avoid accountability for his ordeal is without merit. The fact is that victims of British rendition and torture, like Yunus, deserve their day in court – the Government must accept this, and be prepared to answer for its past actions.”

Sapna Malik, Partner at Leigh Day said: “The High Court has rightly stated that it would be failing in its duty if it refused to adjudicate upon the allegations made in these claims just because it may be required to make findings about the conduct of US personnel. It is now high time for the British government to abandon its attempts to evade judicial scrutiny of its conduct in operations involving the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that justice may finally be served for what has passed and lessons learned for the future.”