For Immediate Release
Secret Court to Consider Open Hearings in Libyan Torture Case
LONDON - A highly secretive British tribunal, which is currently hearing a complaint brought by Gaddafi opponents subjected to rendition and torture, will this week be urged to undertake more open hearings when considering the case.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) is responsible for hearing claims brought against the intelligence services. Abdelhakim Belhaj, a former anti-Gaddafi dissident, and his wife Fatima Boudchar, who were kidnapped and ‘rendered’ to Libya in a joint MI6-CIA operation in 2004, have brought a complaint in the IPT concerning eavesdropping by the security services on their confidential communications with their lawyers. Such eavesdropping would be a serious breach of their right to a fair trial in the case they have brought against the UK Government concerning its role in facilitating their rendition and torture.
On Thursday, 30 January, at 10.30 a.m. in Court No 27 or 28 at the Royal Courts of Justice, the IPT will consider a number of demands made by the couple’s lawyers to protect their right to a fair trial, including:
- that measures are taken to ensure that Government lawyers involved in their case do not have access to privileged communications between Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar and their legal team
- that the future procedure for closed and open hearings is clearly set out – with the IPT holding open, public hearings whenever possible. This is especially important given the IPT previously held a closed hearing in December 2013 without informing either the complainants or their legal team.
The IPT only agreed to hear such claims after being threatened with Judicial Review in the courts by lawyers for Mr Belahaj and Ms Boudchar. The Government however is still pushing for the case to be heard in secret, and opposing moves to ensure that their right to a fair trial is protected. The couple are being supported by legal charity Reprieve and represented by solicitors at Leigh Day.
Commenting, Reprieve legal director, Kat Craig said: “It is scandalous that the Government is still fighting in the courts against the right to a fair trial for victims of rendition and torture. It is bad enough that Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar were kidnapped and abused with the help of MI6. But the Government’s desperate attempts to prevent them from getting answers and an apology for the way they were treated – which is all they are asking for – adds insult to injury.”
Rosa Curling from Leigh Day said: “This case concerns the right of our clients to speak to us, their lawyers, without the government listening in to our communications. In its determination of our clients' case, the Investigative Powers Tribunal must change its approach to hearings. Except where there is a real risk to national security, all hearings held by the Tribunal must be open, with members of the public able to attend. As the Tribunal with oversight of the intelligence services, the IPT must comply and uphold the fundamental principles of open and equal justice.”
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.