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Torture

Oral Answers to Questions — Solicitor-General – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 2nd April 2009.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 10:30 am, 2nd April 2009

Whether any cases of alleged UK involvement in torture overseas other than that of Binyam Mohamed are being investigated by the Attorney-General.

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

The Attorney-General is not carrying out investigations. The Law Officers have an independent constitutional role as guardians of the rule of law and of the public interest. We will ensure that any further such cases of possible criminal wrongdoing that are sent to us receive careful consideration and are referred for police investigation if that is appropriate.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I thank the Solicitor-General for that answer, but I have to ask her, why not? At the end of last week, senior sources in MI5 and MI6 admitted that there were some 15 other cases similar to the Binyam Mohamed case, and at least one—the Rangzieb Ahmed case—has gone to trial and completion. There was an admission in court by MI5 that it had co-operated with the Pakistani authorities at a time when Mr. Ahmed had had his fingernails removed by those authorities. Can the Solicitor-General therefore tell us why not, because in these circumstances, it seems to me that justice should be done in all cases, not just in one?

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman is asking me "Why not?" about. If he is asking me why the Attorney-General is not carrying out investigations, it is because they are done by the police; she has no separate cohort of investigating officials. The role that the court gave to her was of securing the public interest. The rule of law by the United Kingdom has been set in motion by reference of the issues in this matter to the Attorney-General, so she will, in all cases received by us from any other Government Departments, carefully consider them by a proper process and decide whether the police should investigate. Any investigation will follow from the police in the normal way, and of course it is perfectly open to anyone to go to the police and request an investigation, as well.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Does my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General—and, I hope, the Attorney-General—accept that these are the gravest allegations: that people have been tortured with the knowledge and compliance of security officers? Is it not also absolutely essential that the investigation by the police—the Metropolitan police, in one case—should be carried out as quickly as possible? There is a suspicion that this is being delayed endlessly, which is unacceptable.

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I agree that it is necessary for an investigation by any police force—and in this case too—to be carried out with whatever dispatch is compatible with it being rigorously done and a proper conclusion being reached.

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Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

I agree with Mr. Winnick that these are grave allegations indeed. May I ask the Solicitor-General about another aspect of this? It is possible, under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, for Ministers to authorise Crown servants to commit illegal acts abroad. Can she assure the House that no such authorisations have been issued in these 15 cases?

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I know of no 15 cases, although I have seen speculation about numbers in the press— I comment not at all about any number of any kind. I have no knowledge of any such order being made; as I say, there are no 15 cases of which I am aware. I agree wholeheartedly that torture is wholly unacceptable. These cases—if they come forward and if there are more—will be looked at with the utmost care, with a view to ensuring that any possible criminality will be investigated by the police.

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The answer is clearly evading the question about whether orders have been made, and the deflection is the question to only focus on the spurious number of cases. The line "will be looked at with the utmost care" made me laugh out loud. It's so perfectly euphemistic for "will be ignored, buried and forgotten".

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