Bid to deport six terror suspects blocked after UK judges cite torture fears in Algeria

Six men accused of having links to al Qaeda cannot be deported to Algeria because there is a “real risk” they would be tortured, UK judges ruled today in what marks a major defeat for the Home Office.

Judges at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) ruled against Home Secretary Theresa May and found in favour of the six men who have been fighting deportation orders for 10 years.

The Home Office argued they were a national security risk to Britain, but the Siac judges agreed with the men that their human rights would be at risk if returned to Algeria.

“It is not inconceivable that these Appellants, if returned to Algeria, would be subject to ill-treatment infringing Article 3 [prohibition of torture under the European Convention on Human Rights]. There is a real risk of such a breach,” they ruled today.

The six men are living under strict bail and curfew conditions at various locations in England. The men cannot be identified for legal reasons and the Home Secretary now has 10 days to appeal today’s decision.

It is highly unusual for the Home Office to lose such appeals in Siac, which often hears evidence in secret.

The ruling was announced by the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation on Twitter this morning.

Today, the three Siac judges said the threat of Islamism in the region, both in Algeria and neighbouring countries such as Libya and Mali, was contributing to a volatile political situation. They also noted the Islamist attack on the In Amenas gas installation in 2013 when 39 foreign hostages were killed during the ensuing rescue raid by security services.

The Home Secretary argued they had “effective assurances” from Algeria that the men would not be tortured and pointed to an agreement signed between Tony Blair and President Bouteflika in 2006.

However, the court in London noted that Bouteflika was now almost 80 and had sustained a brain haemorrhage in April 2013. Since then he has been confined to a wheelchair and makes few public appearances, the judges said.

Although they noted he had been re-elected as president for a fourth term April 2014, they said some felt there was a potential power vacuum in the country which could undermine the effectiveness of the assurances on torture.

In response, the Home Secretary’s lawyers argued that the presence of international NGOs in Algeria, as well as the Algerian press, would help prevent and deter any abuse of the six men.

But Siac said this was not the case, as any press reporting on abuse by the authorities was not in “real time” but after the event so could not prevent the abuse from happening.

The judges added that it was “obvious” that the presence of human rights NGO’s in Algeria for a number of years had not managed to “prevent further abuse of any detainee” once reported.

In conclusion, they said: “Viewing the evidence as a whole we are not convinced that the improvements in conditions in Algeria are so marked or so entrenched as to obviate the need for effective verification that the authorities will adhere to the assurances given.

“It is not inconceivable that these Appellants, if returned to Algeria, would be subjected to ill-treatment infringing Article 3. There is a real risk of such a breach. The different means of verification of adherence advanced by the Respondent do not, taken together, amount to a robust system of verification.”

The six allegedly include leaders of terror groups in European countries, an associate of Abu Hamza and two men linked to a UK terror plot.

None of the men have ever been convicted of terror offences in the UK. The Home Secretary argues they are a threat to national security and must be returned to Algeria.

The Bureau has been covering the case as part of a two year examination of the use of secret evidence in national security related immigration cases.  

The Bureau has contacted the Home Office for comment.

Main image of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which sits at Field House in London