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The UK High Court struck out a claim against British defendants for unlawful rendition. The Court held that state immunity is an absolute and preliminary bar precluding the Court from examining the merits of a case. This claim, the Court held, depended on it having to decide if the conduct of US officials acting outside the US was unlawful. The Court held that an “act of state” (one that applies to the subject matter of the act itself, for example, unlawful rendition) is intrinsically covered within the doctrine of state immunity (one that is linked to the actor, for example, US officials). The Court concluded that the claims were non-justiciable. The act of state doctrine operated as a bar to claims of damages and declarations of illegality based on unlawful rendition carried out allegedly by US officials. Claimants additionally, claimed negligence – based on the British defendants’ alleged duty of care to the claimants, including, not to expose them to a risk of unlawful rendition or torture. The claimants alleged that British authorities colluded with US officials. The action was framed in terms of joint liability. The court allowed the latter claim to proceed.
Belhaj and another v Straw and Others  EWHC 4111 (QB) 20 December 2013 – read judgment
Peter Skelton of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the defendants in this case. He has nothing to do with the writing of this post.
The High Court has struck out claims against British establishment defendants for “unlawful rendition”. The doctrine of immunity attaching to an act of state is total bar to that such claims and is not limited by the gravity of the alleged violation of rights.
The first claimant, an opponent of the Gaddafi regime, and his wife, the second claimant, had been apprehended in Bangkok in 2004 whilst trying to travel from Beijing to the UK to claim asylum. They were held in a detention centre in Kuala Lumpur for two weeks and whilst they were there the UK authorities, along with the US, the Malaysians and…
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