Government drafting new definition of what constitutes torture

By agency reporter
March 27, 2018

Nearly 20,000 people have supported Freedom from Torture‘s call for the government to consult more widely on its redrafted definition of what constitutes torture. An unclear or incomplete definition is likely to lead to more torture survivors being wrongly locked up in immigration detention.

The letter was delivered to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, at the Home Office headquarters in central London by Freedom from Torture patron Lord Alf Dubs, together with Chief Executive Sonya Sceats and former detainees from Survivors Speak OUT.

The letter was presented the week after the Independent Inspector of Prisons reported that torture survivors were being held at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre, and amid continuing reports of women detainees on hunger strike at Yarl's Wood. (

The issue may seem a complicated legal one but an incomplete and badly drafted definition will have adverse effects on the already difficult conditions experienced by immigration detainees. Many more are likely to be detained and remain locked up, even though Home Office Adults at Risk policy says that this should not happen. A recent High Court judgment ruled that the definition of torture that was being used in the Home Office’s Adults at Risk policy was unlawful and was resulting in the unlawful detention of survivors.

In response the Home Office is reviewing its Adults at Risk policy and has drafted a new definition of torture. However, it is being done in a hurried way behind closed doors and is inviting input only from a small number of organisations, rather than clinical and legal experts and organisations working with torture survivors and asylum seekers, and without the benefit of the findings of Stephen Shaw’s independent review of vulnerable people in detention.

This definition needs examination by experts in international law and clinical practice before it goes to Parliament. This is why Freedomm from Torture is calling on the Home Secretary to halt the current redrafting process and allow time for proper consultation and scrutiny so this vital piece of legislation can be got right this time.

At the hand-in, Freedom From Torture's Chief Executive Sonya Sceats said, "We know Immigration detention is hugely damaging for refugees who have survived torture. We often treat survivors for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm linked to their experience of being locked up in this country. The Home Office knows this but continues to wrongly detain torture survivors, against its own guidance.

 “We hope that the Home Secretary will heed our call and halt the process to consult more widely towards a definition that will protect extremely vulnerable torture survivors."

And Patron Lord Alf Dubs said, “Torture is one of the abominable things that can happen to a human being and people should not be imprisoned here if they’ve been tortured... No one who has been tortured should be detained.”

* Read the letter to the Home Secretary here

* Freedom From Torture

* Survivors Speak OUT


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.