Lords hands government second terror defeat

Birnberg Peirce, Birmingham firm Tyndallwoods and a host of barristers led by Matrix Chambers’ Ben Emmerson QC have scored a historic victory in the House of Lords over the use of evidence gained through torture.

This morning (8 December) the Lords unanimously found that evidence that has been obtained through torture is inadmissable in UK courts, and referred the cases of 10 appellants who had been detained without charge to the Special Immigration Appeals Court (SIAC).

In his leading judgment, Lord Bingham of Cornhill said: “It trivialises the issue before the House to treat it as an argument about the law of evidence. The issue is one of constitutional principle, whether evidence obtained by torturing another human being may lawfully be admitted against a party to proceedings in a British court, irrespective of where, or by whom, or on whose authority the torture was inflicted. To that question I would give a very clear negative answer.”

The ruling comes almost exactly a year after Birnberg Peirce partner Gareth Peirce and Emmerson led a team challenging the detention of terrorist suspects without charge, which resulted in a robust ruling against the government on 16 December 2004.

The appellants’ case was supported by a number of intervenors. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, instructing Sir Sydney Kentridge QC of Brick Court Chambers, acted pro bono for the Commonwealth Law Association, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association.

Another group of intervenors, including the Law Society and Amnesty International, were represented by Leigh Day & Co and Doughty Street Chambers’ Keir Starmer QC.