Page last updated at 23:12 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 00:12 UK

MPs back UK torture damages plan

Binyam Mohamed
Binyam Mohamed, a UK resident, has made torture allegations

Torture victims should be able to sue foreign governments in the UK courts, a committee of MPs and peers have said.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has called on the government to take an international lead, saying the plan would help rehabilitate victims.

Minsters have argued that they are bound by a state immunity convention and have suggested the move could cause international tensions.

But the committee said practical concerns were of secondary importance.

The committee's chair, Andrew Dismore, is having his Torture (Damages) Bill reintroduced into the House of Lords.

Civil remedy

It was approved there last year but then stalled in the Commons.

In its report, the committee said international law was flexible enough to make the Government's legal argument insufficient reason to maintain the current position.

The report stated: "The practical questions of foreign relations, enforcement and litigation procedure are important, but they are secondary to the issue we are examining, which is: should there be a civil remedy available in the UK to victims of torture at the hands of foreign states?

"We are of the strong opinion that there should. Such an action would be in line with our positive responsibilities towards torture victims under international law."

It also said that the UK should expand international law so that victims get the reparations they are entitled to.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "The government has considerable sympathy with the motivation behind the Torture Damages Bill and with the situation of people who have been victims of torture.

"This bill could not work in practice and would not provide any practical benefit to victims of torture. In addition, it would place the UK in breach of its obligations under international law."

The spokesperson added that the government condemned torture in all its forms.

'No collusion'

Meanwhile, Kim Howells, chair of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee has expressed concern over calls for an inquiry into British complicity over torture allegations.

Mr Howells said his committee had found no evidence of UK collusion in the torture of detainees by foreign governments.

He said there was a prospect of intelligence agencies being found guilty until proven innocent.

The head of MI6 told the BBC there was no torture and "no complicity in torture" by the British secret service.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's programme MI6: A Century in Shadows, Sir John Scarlett said: "They [MI6 officers] also have the responsibility of protecting the country against terrorism and these issues need to be debated and understood in that context.

"Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else."

Scotland Yard is conducting a criminal investigation into claims MI5 was complicit in the abuse of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who says he was tortured while being held at sites in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan.

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