Court quashes government attempts at secrecy over abuse collusion claims

The Court of Appeal ruled today that secret evidence cannot be used in a civil damages claim being brought by six former Guantanamo Bay detainees.

It’s a victory for justice, transparency and accountability and hopefully strikes a blow against the government’s wider attempts to throw a blanket of secrecy over all counter-terrorism proceedings, particularly those related to allegations that the UK colluded in abusing people’s human rights abuses.

Overruling a November 2009 judgement, the court found in favour of UK residents Binyam Mohamed, Bisher Al Rawi, Jamil El Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes and Martin Mubanga, who are seeking compensation from the UK government on the basis that UK security personnel were complicit in their illegal detention, ill-treatment and torture.

The government argued that part of the evidence should be heard in secret and kept from the six men on ‘national security’ grounds – introducing secrecy on an unprecedented scale into the civil courts.

But Lord Neuberger, who headed the panel of judges, said: "The importance of civil trials being fair, the procedures of the court being simple, and the rules of court being clear are all of cardinal importance. It would, in our view, be wrong for judges to introduce into ordinary civil trials a procedure which cuts across absolutely fundamental principles."

He added that a person's right to know the case against him and to know the reasons why he has lost or won is fundamental to a fair trial.

Today’s decision is still not enough, of course. The British public has a right to know what’s been done in the name of our security. Any UK security personnel who have colluded in committing human rights abuses – like kidnapping, rendition, secret detention and torture – should be held to account. At Amnesty we’re calling for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all allegations of complicity in human rights abuses since 2001.

The case is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court, as the government –whoever that may be after Thursday – will probably appeal. But today’s verdict is a minor victory for the six men who were held in Guantanamo, and for those who seek to shine a light on the UK’s role in human rights abuses linked to its counter-terrorism policy.

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