Secret courts – a dark day for British justice

The High Court has today ruled that a Blair-era renditions case should be heard in secret, following a request from the government under the controversial Justice and Security Act.

In reaching his judgment, Mr Justice Leggatt warned that secret hearings are a “serious derogation from the fundamental principles of open justice and natural justice.”

The case involves two Pakistani men, Amanatullah Ali and Yunus Rahmatullah, who were detained by the UK in Iraq in 2004 and handed over to US forces.

The pair were then rendered to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan where they were tortured and held without charge or trial for a decade.

“This is a dark day for British justice. The government is insisting on secret hearings – concealed even from the victims – to continue covering up its error. It is a blatant attempt to bury the embarrassing truth about the UK’s role in renditions. With the new US President vocally supporting torture, it’s more important than ever that we learn from the mistakes of the past – and never repeat them. The government should urgently withdraw its bid for secrecy.”
Omran Belhadi, Reprieve lawyer assisting the victims

The government’s application for secrecy was met with criticism by senior Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, who warned that “If this case is heard secretly, many people could well feel that the truth has never been exposed.”

Yunus Rahmatullah

In documents presented to the court at a hearing, the government argued that that it would not be possible to discuss in open court “whether they [the two men] were ill-treated (and if so, by whom) during that operation.”

The judge’s decision means that the victims will not be able to hear key parts of the case, which will be shrouded in ‘closed material procedures’ or CMPs. This marks the first use of CMPs in a civil case brought by rendition victims. The judgement follows a hearing behind closed doors at the Royal Courts of Justice, where lawyers and journalists were barred.

The government is claiming that the men were members of the extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). However, human rights organization Reprieve has demonstrated that Mr Ali, a rice trader, was detained on the basis of flawed intelligence that misidentified him as a LeT commander. Ministers have repeatedly told Parliament that Mr Ali was a LeT member, despite this flawed intelligence.