An anti-Gaddafi dissident and his wife yesterday(3 February) won permission to take their case against the UK Government – which played a central role in their 2004 kidnap and abuse – to the Court of Appeal.
Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar were kidnapped and 'rendered' to Colonel Gaddafi’s prisons in a joint MI6-CIA-Libyan operation a decade ago. Ms Boudchar, who was five months pregnant at the time, was chained to a wall and then taped to a stretcher during the ordeal, while Mr Belhaj suffered years of imprisonment and torture on his return to Libya. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18407)
Although the High Court last December found that the couple had a “potentially well-founded claim” that the UK had been “directly implicated” in their abuse, it ultimately ruled in favour of arguments advanced by Government lawyers that a large part of the case should not be heard for fear of damaging relations with the USA.
However, in the very same judgment High Court judge Mr Justice Simon expressed his “concern” that such a case might not be determined in a UK court, adding that “Parliamentary oversight and criminal investigations are not adequate substitutes for access to, and a decision by, the Court.”
Yesterday's result means that the case will now advance to the Court of Appeal, says the legal charity Reprieve.
Commenting, Reprieve legal director, Kat Craig said: “It would be a grim day for British justice if cases as serious as this were blocked in order to spare the blushes of the CIA. All Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar want are answers and an apology – indeed, they have offered to drop the case if the Government will just say sorry for what it did, and make them a token payment of £1. Instead, we have seen the Government’s lawyers doing everything they can to ensure this case is not heard, seeking to place the Government above the law. It is therefore welcome that this will now receive the hearing it deserves in the Court of Appeal.”
Sapna Malik from law firm Leigh Day said: "This judgment would have very worrying repercussions if it were to stand, effectively granting immunity to our security services and military from the British justice system for any joint operations they conduct with the US, however misconceived. Our clients will now look to the Court of Appeal to uphold the rule of law in respect of such operations.”