Those Soft On Terror Law Lords

From Holden:

Britain’s Law Lords indulge in a none-too-subtle dig at Chimpy’s torture fetish.

Thrusting itself into the middle of a stormy international debate, Britain’s highest court declared today that evidence obtained through torture – no matter who had done the torturing – was not admissible in British courts. It also said that Britain had a “positive obligation” to uphold anti-torture principles abroad as well as at home.

“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 inflected,” said Lord Bingham, writing the lead opinion for the Law Lords, roughly equivalent to the United States Supreme Court. “To that question I would give a very clear negative answer.”

The ruling dealt specifically with the case of 10 men who were detained and held without charge in Britain on suspicion of being terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. But while the question at hand applied only to English law, several of the lords explicitly referred – not at all flatteringly – to the standards of evidence applied in the United States in the fight against terror.

Speaking of English national pride in its common-law rejection centuries ago of torture as a means to an end, Lord Hoffman brought his argument forward to the current era.

“In our own century,” he wrote, “many people in the United States, heirs to that common-law tradition, have felt their country dishonored by its use of torture outside the jurisdiction and its practice of extra-legal ‘rendition’ of suspects to countries where they would be tortured.”


In strong language that referred to centuries of English law and also to the moral weight of international treaties and obligations, a seven-member panel of the Law Lords struck down that decision.

“The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of third party 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,” Lord Bingham wrote.