UK backed on 'torture' case Britons

Thurrock Gazette: Les Walker (left) and Dr William Sampson claim to have been tortured in Saudi Arabia. Les Walker (left) and Dr William Sampson claim to have been tortured in Saudi Arabia.

A decision by UK courts to block four Britons from suing foreign officials who allegedly tortured them while they were held in Saudi Arabian jails was not a breach of their human rights, European judges have ruled.

Ronald Jones, Alexander Mitchell, William Sampson and Leslie Walker claim they were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation and rape as well as being given mind- altering drugs following their arrest in 2000 in Saudi Arabia's capital city, Riyadh.

Mr Mitchell, Mr Walker and Mr Sampson were arrested after a series of terrorist bombings in Riyadh and Khobar, eastern Saudi Arabia, and claimed they were tortured into admitting responsibility. Mr Jones was seized after being injured in a bomb blast outside a bookshop.

A panel of seven judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled a refusal by British courts to allow the men to sue Saudi Arabia for compensation did not amount to a breach of article six of the European Convention on Human Rights - access to court.

In 2002, Mr Jones brought proceedings against Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Interior and the man who he alleges tortured him, claiming damages for torture.

His application was struck out in February 2003 on the grounds that Saudi Arabia and its officials were entitled to state immunity.

A claim by Mr Mitchell, Mr Sampson and Mr Walker against the four individuals that they considered to be responsible for their torture was struck out for the same reason in February 2004.

The applicants appealed against the decisions, and their cases were joined. In October 2004 the Court of Appeal unanimously found that, though Mr Jones could not sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself, the applicants could pursue their cases against the individual named defendants.

However, this decision was overturned in June 2006 by the House of Lords, which held that the applicants could not pursue any of their claims on the ground that all the defendants were also entitled to state immunity.

Voting six to one that there had been no violation of article six, the judgment said: "In these circumstances, the Court is satisfied that the grant of immunity to the State officials in the present case reflected generally recognised rules of public international law.

"The application of the provisions of the 1978 Act to grant immunity to the State officials in the applicants' civil cases did not therefore amount to an unjustified restriction on the applicant's access to a court."

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