by RAY FLEMING
HOME Secretary Charles Clarke said the ruling was “hypothetical”. Menzies Campbell, the Liberal foreign affairs spokesman, said it was a “landmark judgement”. David Davis, shadow Home Secretary, apparently said nothing. The matter at issue was yesterday's unanimous ruling by a panel of seven Law Lords that evidence that may have been gathered by torture cannot be used against terror suspects in British courts. The timing of this decision, in a week during which the issue of the possible use of torture by America's CIA or its agents has been in the headlines, was purely coincidental. Nonetheless it was an important buttressing of the principle that evidence which may have been obtained under torture is not admissible in British courts. The Law Lords were ruling on a appeal by eight detainees, being held without trial on a suspicion of involvement in terrorism, against earlier rulings by the Court of Appeal that evidence could be used if it had been obtained under torture by agents of another country with no involvement by the UK, and that there was no obligation by the government to inquire into its origins. While accepting the Law Lord's judgement, Charles Clarke was able to describe it as “hypothetical” because, he said, the government did not “intend to rely on or present evidence which we know or believe to have been obtained by torture”. However, hypothetical or not, the decision of the Law Lords means that the cases against the eight detainees will have to reviewed to ensure that none of the evidence against them could have been obtained as the result of torture, whether or not the UK inquired into its origins. Lord Bingham, the former Lord Chief Justice who headed the panel said: “The principles of common law, standing alone, compel the exclusion of thirdparty torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice.” He added that English law had regarded “torture and its fruits” with abhorrence for more than 500 years. Despite “clarifications” from Washington it is still not clear whether the CIA or its agents can use torture against suspected terrorists. At least we now know that Britain cannot use evidence gathered by torture.

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