UK's Spy Watchdog Steps Down, Commits To Review 'Torture Loophole'

UK’s Top Spy Watchdog Steps Down, Commits To Review ‘Torture Loophole’ By October

The UK’s top spy watchdog has announced he will be stepping down in October, a week after a secret policy allowing ministers to approve actions that could lead to torture was revealed. 

The UK’s intelligence services watchdog, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (ICPO), has announced that its commissioner Sir Adrian Fulford will step down in October.

Human rights charity Reprieve fears his departure “casts a cloud of uncertainty” on his “overdue” review of the government’s ‘official’ policy on torture, known as the Consolidated Guidance.

But, speaking to RightsInfo, an ICPO spokeswoman insisted that Sir Fulford would make his recommendations on the Consolidated Guidance “in plenty of time” before he leaves.

A Torture Loophole?

Image Credit: Jez Timms/Unsplash

The news comes a little over a week after a document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by research initiative The Rendition Project appears to have revealed a secret Ministry of Defence policy. 

It suggests ministers can approve actions carrying a serious risk of torture if “the potential benefits justify accepting the risk and legal consequences”.

This policy also makes a provision for ministers to pre-approve lists of individuals about whom information may be shared despite a serious risk they could face mistreatment, according to human rights activist group, Reprieve.

We need to know what today’s news means for the Commissioner’s overdue recommendations, which the defence secretary promised would be delivered ‘within weeks’ in order to resolve this issue.

Dan Dolan, Deputy Director of Reprieve

Reprieve’s deputy director Dan Dolan, said: “All eyes are on IPCO after last week’s revelations, and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the Commissioner’s review of the UK’s rules on torture. As things stand, the various different policies floating around Whitehall appear to be suggesting ministers can authorise torture.

“But the law is unequivocal: torture is illegal.

“We need to know what today’s news means for the Commissioner’s overdue recommendations, which the defence secretary promised would be delivered ‘within weeks’ in order to resolve this issue”.

MP David Davis, former Brexit Secretary and civil liberties campaigner, raised an urgent question in Parliament last week after the apparent “torture loophole” was revealed.

Responding, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said: “The Ministry of Defence’s policy is aligned with the Government’s policy on sharing and receiving intelligence, and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner has been satisfied with our activities and has not identified issues of concern.

“However, the Prime Minister has asked the commissioner to review the Government’s consolidated guidance and submit proposals on how it could be improved.

“Once it has done so and the Government have had the chance to consider them—I anticipate that this will be a matter of weeks—the MOD will review its internal guidance as necessary in the light of any updated guidance that is published.”

The Prime Minister ordered Sir Fulford’s review into the guidance after two parliamentary reports released in June last year revealed the UK’s alleged involvement in torture since 9/11. 

Read more on this issue: 

Featured Image Credit: Jon Evans/Flickr.

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About the Author

Aaron Walawalkar

News and Digital Editor
Aaron is an NCTJ-accredited multimedia journalist focussing on human rights. His extensive reporting on rough sleeping in east London has been nominated for multiple awards. He has worked for regional and national newspapers and produced illustrations, infographics and videos for humanitarian organisation RedR UK. View all posts by Aaron Walawalkar.
UK’s Top Spy Watchdog Steps Down, Commits To Review ‘Torture Loophole’ By October
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