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Volume 447: debated on Monday 12 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the use in British courts of evidence obtained by torture or forcible methods overseas; and if he will make a statement. (64996)

Evidence obtained as a result of any acts of torture by British officials, or with which British authorities were complicit, would not be admissible in criminal or civil proceedings in the UK. It does not matter whether the evidence was obtained here or abroad.

During the individual appeals against certification under powers provided under part four of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (ATCSA), the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) emphatically rejected any suggestion that evidence relied upon by the Government was, or even may have been, obtained by torture. The Court of Appeal later confirmed the view of SIAC. This issue is currently before the House of Lords’ Judicial Committee. It is not always possible to know where all intelligence information has come from or the precise circumstances under which it was obtained. The Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service receive material from a wide range of foreign intelligence services. The agencies evaluate the reliability of this intelligence against other information available to them. It is then passed, together with an assessment of reliability, to the Government.

It may be necessary in some circumstances to rely operationally on material which may have been obtained through the use of torture where it is considered necessary to do so, in particular for preventing terrorist attack and protecting life. The Government do not believe there is an absolute exclusionary rule preventing the use of such evidence in legal proceedings to assess the lawfulness of such executive action. Such a rule could endanger national security as it would undermine our ability to defend in court the decision made and therefore inhibit executive action to protect national security.

We do not condone torture in any way, nor would we carry out this completely unacceptable behaviour. However, we do have an obligation to protect national security and public safety. We would be deficient in this duty if we did not properly assess all the information available to us.