The Solicitor - The FindLaw UK Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

National security: Libyan dissidents to sue MI6 over abduction and torture claims

Two Libyan dissidents are taking a former senior MI6 officer to court to challenge a little-known law which protects members of the security service from criminal liability for acts carried out abroad, providing that they are sanctioned by a cabinet minister.

The law is contained in section seven of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 which states that British security and intelligence officers are not liable under the criminal or civil law of any part of the United Kingdom for acts authorised by a senior minister. The clause has been dubbed Britain's 'licence to kill' law.

Abdul Hakin Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi have launched the legal challenge after claiming that they were tortured by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's secret police. They accuse Mr Allen, who was the most senior officer in MI6 responsible for counter-terrorism at that time, alleging that he was complicit in their torture.

Mr Belhaj was detained in Bangkok and was then allegedly tortured by US agents before being flown to Tripoli where he says he was detained and tortured for years. His co-accuser Mr Saadi was detained in Hong Kong in 2004 in an operation which they allege was jointly coordinated by MI6 and the Libyan Foreign Minister. Mr Saadi says he also suffered years of torture.

The allegations have come to light after a huge number of confidential documents were uncovered shortly after the collapse of the Gaddafi Government last summer. Amongst these was a letter to the former Libyan Government minister Moussa Koussa from Mr Allen.

It read: "I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq (now known as Abdul Hakim Belhaj). This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years."

Civil servants have repeatedly defended MI6 over the incident, claiming that the agency was only acting under "government policy authorised by ministers".

The Foreign Secretary at the time was Labour MP Jack Straw. He has since sought to distance himself from the case, claiming that he had no knowledge of specific incidents.

"No foreign secretary can know all the details of what the intelligence services are doing at any one time," he told the BBC.

The two Libyans are claiming damages from the UK Government for unlawful detention, inhuman and degrading treatment, batteries and assaults by US, Thai and Libyan agents. Their lawyers, Leigh Day, have written to Mr Allen to inform him that if he denies their claims they will seek disclosure of government documents which would include communications between the UK Government and Gaddafi's regime in Libya, as well as with other security services including the CIA and MI5. They have given Mr Allen six weeks to respond.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

Do human rights apply to convicted criminals? (FindLaw)

Find local human rights solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)