Rules 'threaten to expose troops'
New Government guidelines threaten to expose British troops, intelligence service agents and other personnel to charges of aiding and abetting torture, the High Court has been told.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is asking two senior judges to block the guidance on interrogating suspects overseas.
It was drawn up against the background of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and was announced by the Prime Minister last July to ensure UK intelligence officers and military personnel are not involved or complicit in the torture of detainees held by foreign powers.
London's High Court was told David Cameron issued the "Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel" jointly with the secretaries of state for the Home Office, Foreign Office and defence.
Ben Emmerson QC, appearing for the Commission, argued parts of the guidance constituted "an instruction to service personnel to act in a manner that would expose them to criminal liability" whilst being told by ministers that was not the case.
The QC told judges Sir Anthony May and Mr Justice Keith: "If UK personnel solicit the detention of an individual by a foreign state knowing there is a real risk of torture, and as a direct result of that solicitation that individual is then tortured by foreign state agents, we say that involves the UK in a breach of its international obligations... and complicity in the act of torture."
Government lawyers say the guidance does not seek to regulate how ministers will respond in individual cases, and there is no proper basis for assuming that ministers may act in a way that is inconsistent with UK domestic or international legal obligations.
James Eadie QC, for the ministers, points out the guidance states in clear terms the Government does not solicit or condone the use of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment and warned the court against attempting to give its opinion on the current state of international law "in the abstract" without detailed consideration of the facts of an individual case.
During the three-day hearing, lawyers for an Iraqi citizen, Alaa' Nassif Jassim Al-Bazzouni, will also challenge the guidance specifically on the grounds that it explicitly and unlawfully condones the "barbaric practice" of hooding prisoners for "transit and security purposes".
Mr Al-Bazzouni - a father-of-three who lives in Basra, southern Iraq - says he was abused and hooded by British troops in 2006 in the wake of the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein.