Supreme Court delivers judgment on law applicable to claims concerning alleged complicity in torture


On 20 December 2023, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in Abu Zubaydah v Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office & others [2023] UKSC 50. The claimant, Abu Zubaydah, is a detainee at Guantánamo Bay. He alleges that between 2002 and 2006 he was unlawfully rendered by agents of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to secret ‘black site’ prisons in Thailand, Poland, Morocco, Lithuania, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay (“the Six Countries”), where he was arbitrarily detained and subject to extreme mistreatment and torture. He has brought a claim in the English courts alleging that the UK security and intelligence services (“the UK Services”) were complicit in that mistreatment and torture because the UK Services sent questions to the CIA with a view to eliciting information from the claimant during interrogations at which he was mistreated and tortured by the CIA.

In 2021 the High Court held that the claimant’s claims against the UK Services are governed by the laws of the Six Countries.  In 2022 the Court of Appeal overturned that conclusion and held that the claims are governed by English law.  In today’s judgment, the Supreme Court agreed (by a majority of 4-1) that English law is the applicable law.

Richard Hermer KC and Edward Craven represented the claimant/respondent. Jonathan Glasson KC represented the defendants/appellants.

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