Statement by Minister of State Cannon on the 'Hooded Men' case17 May 2018
The prevention and eradication of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has been a cornerstone of Ireland’s approach to human rights for decades. We are rightly seen across the world as a defender of the international human rights framework, including through our work in the EU and in international fora such as the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The case taken by Ireland against the UK in 1971 broke new ground in the international protection of human rights. As the first interstate case to be brought before the European Court of Human Rights, Ireland v UK showed that all states that signed up to international agreements on human rights could and should be held accountable. That is a principle that we stand by today.
Then, on 2 December 2014, the Government announced its decision to request the European Court of Human Rights to revise its 1978 judgment in the case taken by Ireland against the UK. On the basis of new material uncovered, the Government contended that the ill-treatment suffered by 14 men in Northern Ireland in 1971, should be recognised as torture.
The Court’s judgment was delivered on 20 March. As you know, the Court refused the Government’s application to revise the 1978 judgment and find that the men had suffered torture. The refusal was made on two grounds.
Firstly, the Court did not believe the new documents contained a sufficient prima facie case that one of the witnesses had misled the Commission and the Court about the long-term effects of the 'five techniques' of interrogation.
Secondly, the Court did not accept that, even if Dr Leigh had given misleading evidence, it might have had a decisive influence on the Court's finding in the original judgment.
The men who suffered this treatment have understandably been disappointed by the Court’s decision. Four decades have gone by since the case was first decided by the Court and the men have shown great courage and dignity in continuing to seek to have their treatment recognised as torture. My colleague the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade met the men recently to hear their experiences, and I know that he was deeply moved by what they told him on that day.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the fortitude and persistence of the men who became known around the world as the ‘Hooded Men’. They have had to deal with the long-lasting effects of this treatment and my thoughts are with them this evening.
It is important to remember that nothing in the judgment of 20 March changes the finding that the men suffered inhuman and degrading treatment, in breach of their rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Nor does it mean that this treatment is not, by current standards, torture. The revision procedure is about looking again at the case as it was at the time and considering whether the new information would have changed the Court’s decision at the time of the original judgment. In this case, the Court decided that it would not have changed the original judgment.
I know many people are eager that the Government should seek a referral of the revision application to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. While this is possible, it is important to note that there is no automatic right for referral. Any application to have the case referred to the Grand Chamber would first be considered by a panel of five judges. No application to refer a revision request to the Grand Chamber has ever been successful.
I want to be clear that the Government has not ruled out making such an application. But this is a decision that we will not take lightly. The Government has three months from the date of the decision to apply for a referral. We are using that time to consider the judgment carefully before any Cabinet decision on whether to move ahead with the application.
When the Government has made a decision on whether to apply for a referral to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, that decision will be made public.
In closing, I want to assure the men whose treatment led Ireland to take this case in 1971, and all those who have campaigned with them in the decades since, that the Government regards this with the utmost seriousness. That is why we will consider the judgment of 20 March very carefully before reaching a decision based on the information and advice that we have.