Landmark judgment in Libyan rendition case against Jack Straw & others

30.10.14 | |

Today the Court of Appeal has ruled that seven respondents, including former foreign secretary Jack Straw and the former Head of MI6, should face the English courts over Libyan rendition charges.  The case concerns claims that the respondents were unlawfully involved in the torture and illegal rendition of a Libyan man and his pregnant wife to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004. 


This appeal successfully reverses the judgment of Mr Justice Simon striking out the cases in December 2013.  The UK government had argued that the case should never to go trial because it would damage UK-US relations.  Simon J ruled that the English courts should not hear evidence or rule on the case on the basis of the Foreign Act of State doctrine, holding that it provides that consideration of the acts of a foreign State is a breach of comity between nations.  Today’s Court of Appeal judgment clears the way for the couple to take their case to trial, more than two years after they first launched legal proceedings.  The Court of Appeal said that, while the trial of the couple’s rendition was likely to require a British Court to assess the wrongfulness of acts by the CIA and Libyan agents, this was no reason to bar the claim. It gave weight to the allegations in the case of “particularly grave violations of human rights” (para. 116), and stressed that “the stark reality is that unless the English courts are able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations against the executive will never be subjected to judicial investigation” (para. 119).  Additionally, it found that the Foreign Act of State doctrine did not apply when the US was acting outside its own territory. 


In these proceedings Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar seek a declaration of illegality and damages arising from what they contend was the joint participation of the respondents in their unlawful abduction, kidnapping and removal to Libya in March 2004. The claim includes allegations that they were unlawfully detained and/or mistreated in China, Malaysia, Thailand and Libya, and on board a US registered aircraft. It is alleged that their detention and mistreatment was carried out by agents of China, Malaysia, Thailand, Libya and the United States of America. The claim pleads the following causes of action: false imprisonment, trespass to the person, conspiracy to injure, conspiracy to use unlawful means, negligence and misfeasance in public office.


In 2013 Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar offered to settle the case for £3 for an admission of liability and an apology. This offer was not accepted by the defendants.

Maria Roche was instructed by  Sapna Malik, Leigh Day and the expert charity Reprieve supported the claim.


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