Director of Public Prosecutions asks Foreign Office to withhold evidence in torture case

May 4, 2017

Britain’s most senior prosecutor has asked the Foreign Office to apply to withhold evidence from two survivors of a UK-US ‘rendition’, it emerged today.

The move surfaced in a court hearing involving the 2004 rendition of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his then-pregnant wife, Fatima Boudchar. The couple – who were kidnapped, tortured and forcibly taken to Gaddafi’s Libya in a joint UK/US operation – are challenging last year’s decision by Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), not to charge any UK officials over their abduction. It emerged today that the DPP has asked the Foreign Office to intervene in the victims’ legal challenge to seek so-called ‘closed material procedures’, or CMPs, in the case. The court also heard how the DPP has shared confidential Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) case files with the Foreign Office.

If the DPP’s request succeeds, key evidence about the DPP’s decision will be kept secret from the victims – but shared with the same government department that was under investigation in the case. The Foreign Office is also being sued for the same events in a civil claim, where Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar are seeking an apology and a token £1.

Foreign Office lawyers indicated in court today that the Department would be seeking meetings about the case with the DPP.

The DPP’s decision not to prosecute any UK officials followed a Scotland Yard investigation that saw over 28,000 pages of evidence submitted to the CPS. Police questioned Foreign Office officials in connection with the rendition, and recommended a criminal charge.

The news comes weeks after ministers successfully pushed for secret courts to be used in a similar case relating to UK involvement in War on Terror-era renditions.

Commenting, Cori Crider, a lawyer for the rendition victims at human rights organization Reprieve, said:

“When top MI6 officials and a former Foreign Secretary are investigated for rendition and torture, you’d think prosecutors would sup with a very long spoon. How are victims meant to have confidence in open, British justice when prosecutors ask the very department involved in the case to help them make an application for a secret trial?”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications@reprieve.org.uk, or +44 207 553 8160. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on: katherine.oshea@reprieve.org, or +1 917 855 8064.

2. Further detail about today’s hearing is available on request.

3. Under closed material procedures, the side opposing the Government is excluded from the courtroom, along with the press and the public, and is unable to hear or challenge evidence used against them. The measures have attracted criticism, because they hand an advantage to the Government’s lawyers – as well as a mechanism by which ministers can prevent embarrassing facts from becoming public.

4. Background on the Scotland Yard investigation into the case, and the DPP’s decision, is available here.

5. Further detail about Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar’s case is available at the Reprieve site, here.