Yunus Rahmatullah: Supreme Court rules on detainee

Yunus Rahmatullah
Image caption Yunus Rahmatullah was detained in Iraq by British forces in 2004.

The UK Supreme Court has ruled against a legal charity which argued a Pakistani national in US custody should be handed over to the UK.

In the case of Yunus Rahmatullah the court upheld an ancient right requiring authorities to produce prisoners.

But the court agreed with the UK government that it was unable to enforce his return.

He was captured by UK forces in Iraq in 2004 and later handed over to US forces at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

Mr Rahmatullah, a suspected insurgent who the US authorities believed had links with al-Qaeda, remains in US custody, without charge.

Last year the Court of Appeal ordered Mr Rahmatullah's return to UK authorities under the law of habeas corpus, an ancient tenet of English law.

But that release order was cancelled in February by Court of Appeal judges after they were told the US authorities were not going to co-operate.

A panel of seven Supreme Court judges has decided, by a 5-2 majority, to dismiss legal charity Reprieve's appeal against that decision.

'Refusal' by US

Under habeas corpus - which means "you may have the body" in Latin - Reprieve had sought to force the UK authorities to produce Mr Rahmatullah.

Reprieve and Mr Rahmatullah's solicitors, who took instructions from one of his relatives, said while he was being held by US forces at Bagram he remained under UK control as part of a "memorandum of understanding" with the US.

They argued the UK government had the power to ask the US authorities to free him.

But in February British ministers said their efforts to persuade the Americans had "reached the end of the road".

In the court ruling, the Supreme Court judges said: "The majority accepts that there were shortcomings in the letter from the US Defense Department dated 8 February 2012 in that it did not address either of the grounds on which the UK appeared to have a right to demand his transfer back into its custody.

"But, in the view of the majority, the Court of Appeal was entitled to treat the letter as a refusal by the US to transfer him back to the UK and therefore to consider that it had become clear that the UK government did not have the control over his detention which would have justified some further order against it."

But they went on to dismiss the UK government's attempt to overturn the writ of habeas corpus.

The judges wrote: "There were sufficient grounds for considering that the UK government might have control over Mr Rahmatullah's detention by the US to justify the issue of the writ, so that its control or otherwise over his detention could more clearly be perceived."

They added: "There were substantial grounds for considering that Mr Rahmatullah was entitled to the protection of the (Fourth Geneva) Convention; that his continued detention by the US was in breach of its terms; and that, because it had transferred him into the custody of the US, the UK was, according to its terms, itself under a duty to remedy the breach and to request his return."

Individual liberty

Jamie Beagent, a lawyer representing Mr Rahmatullah, said: "Today's judgment is a resounding affirmation of the principles of habeas corpus and its importance in defending the liberty of the individual from unbridled executive power.

"The government's attempts to row back on centuries of constitutional development and restrict the reach of habeas corpus has been rejected by the highest court in the land.

"Sadly, despite the fact that in international law Mr Rahmatullah remains a British detainee and the United States does not consider him a security threat, our client remains in detention at Bagram."

The UK government had argued that, despite the memorandum of understanding, attempts to secure Mr Rahmatullah's release would have been futile.

Mr Beagent said the US was breaching the Geneva Convention and they would be drawing this to the attention of the Metropolitan Police, who are investigating Mr Rahmatullah's case.

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