A major review of MI5s accountability and trustworthiness looks inevitable after an historic move in the courts right at the end of the week. The missing paragraph 168 of the English Court of Appeals ruling in the Binyam Mohamed torture case has been restored in slightly amended form. Lord Neubergers stinging judgement is now spelt out in full, that MI5 has a dubious record on human rights and torture, and has an interest in the suppression of information about the treatment of former terrorism suspects. The court acquits ministers of bad faith in supporting MI5 denials and withholding evidence. And in the words of the Lord Chief Justice the appeal judges reject any idea that they were nobbled by the government into censoring their own judgement in the first place. The immediate question is, when did MI5 know that the Americans had changed their interrogation techniques ; when did they know it and were they complicit in torture in the Mohamed case and others? Adds In a flurry of goverment reaction, Gordon Brown has annnounced that MI5’s revised guidelines will be published soon; the Foreign secretary has denied that MI5 tell lies; and the Home Secretary has turned down a public inquiry on the grounds of ongoing police investigations and a review by the Intelligence and Security Committee of MPs appointed by the PM. Lord Judge said :
the damaging myth may develop to the effect that in this particular case a minister of the Crown or counsel acting for him was somehow permitted to interfere in the judicial process. He added: That did not happen and it is critical to the integrity of the administration of justice that if any such misconception may be taking root it is eradicated.
Lord Judge means by this that the governments lawyer Jonathan Sumptions confidential representations to the court to soften the wording of the judgement were perfectly allowable. Accepted: but that doesnt explain why Lord Neuberger at first accepted Sumptions plea and then went back on it, after almighty protests. But at least the Appeal Court recovered its nerve and restored the full criticisms, to the evident strong displeasure of ministers.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London