Sunday, December 21, 2008

R (Al-Saadoon & Mufdhi) v. Secretary of State for Defence

On Friday, a two-judge panel of the High Court of Justice decided R (Saadoon & Mufdhi) v. Secretary of State for Defence. (Judgment here; Guardian story here.) The question was the lawfulness of the proposed transfer of two Iraqi nationals, who are accused of the murder of two British soldiers, from British custody in Iraq to Iraqi custody for trial by the Iraqi High Tribunal. The claimants argued (para. 2) that "(i) they are within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom for the purposes of article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights ("the Convention") and the Human Rights Act 1998 ("the HRA 1998"), so that they enjoy the full range of Convention rights; (ii) transfer to the IHT would violate their Convention rights, and therefore be in breach of s.6 of the HRA 1998, because there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be at real risk of a flagrantly unfair trial, of the death penalty, and of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment while in custody pending trial and while serving any custodial sentence, contrary to articles 2, 3 and 6 of the Convention and article 1 of protocol no. 13; (iii) the transfer would be in breach of rules of customary international law, in particular the prohibition on torture; and (iv) the transfer would also be in breach of a legitimate expectation created by what is said to be the settled policy of Her Majesty’s Government not to expose individuals to a real risk of the death penalty." The court concluded (para. 95): "(1) the claimants are within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom for the purposes of article 1 of the Convention and therefore of the HRA 1998; (2) in accordance with the approach in R (B) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Convention is qualified in its application by the United Kingdom’s obligation under public international law to comply with the request of the Iraqi court to transfer the claimants into the custody of the court; (3) if, however, the claimants would be exposed to such ill-treatment on transfer as to provide a justification in international law for declining to transfer them, the United Kingdom cannot then rely on its international law obligation as qualifying the application of the Convention, and the claimants can invoke the Convention and in particular the Soering principle in the normal way to resist their transfer." With regard to the third point, the court went on to find that a transfer would not violated any British obligations under international law, and so the proposed transfer would be lawful. Having reached this conclusion, though, the court noted that the outcome would have been different if the European Convention had applied (given the risk of the death penalty being imposed and carried out), and in this regard, the court indicated (para. 204) that it would look favorably at a request for permission to appeal (presumably so that the Court of Appeal would have the opportunity to reconsider R (B) v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the context of this case).