Couple in Libyan rendition case granted appeal to UK’s highest court

Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife are challenging the decision to hold legal proceedings relating to their abduction and torture in secret

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, centre, is seen as a rebel military commander during the Libyan uprising in 2011. Belhaj and his wife are suing the British government, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw and the former head of the MI6 spy agency, Mark Allen. FRANCOIS MORI/AP
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The UK’s highest court has agreed to hear a challenge to an attempt to conceal the role of a top MI6 officer in the abduction and torture of a Libyan dissident.

Senior judges have given permission for an appeal by Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar to be “leapfrogged” direct to the Supreme Court. The case will be heard on 22 March.

The couple are currently involved in legal proceedings challenging the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to charge a senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, over his involvement in their ordeal.

The pair were detained in Thailand in March 2004 after a tipoff from MI6 and were forcibly returned to Tripoli to the government of then Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi in an operation named ‘extraordinary rendition’.

They say that masked CIA officers detained them at Bangkok airport, strapped them to stretchers and put them on an airplane bound for Tripoli.

On arrival in Libya, the pair were imprisoned; Bouchar for five months, Belhaj, the leader of an anti-government outfit, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), was held for six years.

He said that he was interrogated by British intelligence officers while in jail and indicated to them that he had been tortured.

A critical element in the case is the relationship between Allen and Britain’s foreign secretary at the time, Jack Straw.


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The current foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has applied to hold the legal proceedings in secret. This would mean Belhaj and Boudchar, their lawyers, journalists and the public would all be banned from attending the hearings.

However, the couple’s lawyers argue that these powers were granted by Parliament solely for use in non-criminal proceedings. The Supreme Court will be asked to rule that the powers cannot be used in a legal action relating to a potential prosecution of an MI6 officer.

Cori Crider, attorney for Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar at Reprieve, said: “Abdul-Hakim and Fatima have already had to beat the government once in the Supreme Court, and they'll go back as many times as it takes for open justice.”

She added: “Ministers hope to whisper in the judge’s ear about the real reason one of their top MI6 officers was let off the hook for his role in the rendition of a pregnant woman. But criminal matters were explicitly carved out of the Justice and Security Act, and rightly so.

"With something this serious we, the British public, have a right to know what was done in our name.”