Belhaj and Another v Straw and Others: CA 30 Oct 2014

Judiciary 1. In these proceedings the appellants seek a declaration of illegality and damages arising from what they contend was the participation of the respondents in their unlawful abduction, kidnapping and removal to Libya in March 2004. The claim includes allegations that they were unlawfully detained and/or mistreated in China, Malaysia, Thailand and Libya, and on board a US registered aircraft. It is alleged that their detention and mistreatment was carried out by agents of China, Malaysia, Thailand, Libya and the United States of America. The claim pleads the following causes of action: false imprisonment, trespass to the person, conspiracy to injure, conspiracy to use unlawful means, negligence and misfeasance in public office.
2. We must emphasise that the hearings below and on this appeal have been conducted on the basis of the pleadings lodged by the parties. As matters stand these are no more than allegations.
3. On behalf of the respondents it is submitted that the proceedings are barred by state immunity and the act of state doctrine.
4. We agree with the judge that state immunity does not bar these proceedings.
5. However, we also consider that the claim is not barred by the act of state doctrine because it falls within a limitation on grounds of public policy in cases of violations of international law and fundamental human rights. In coming to this conclusion we are influenced, in particular, by the following considerations:
(1) The allegations in this case – although they are only allegations – are of particularly grave violations of international law and human rights in the form of torture and unlawful rendition.
(2) The respondents in these proceedings are either current or former officers or officials of state in the United Kingdom or government departments or agencies. Their conduct, considered in isolation, would not normally be exempt from investigation by the courts. On the contrary there is a compelling public interest in the investigation by the English courts of these allegations.
(3) This is not a case in which there is a lack of judicial or manageable standards. On the contrary, the applicable principles of international law and domestic law are clearly established.
(4) Unless the English courts were able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations would go uninvestigated and the appellants would be left without any legal recourse or remedy.
References: [2014] EWCA Civ 1394, [2014] WLR(D) 459, [2015] 2 WLR 1105, [2016] 1 All ER 121
Links: Bailii, Judiciary Summary, WLRD
Judges: Lord Dyson MR, Lloyd Jones, Sharp LJJ
Jurisdiction: England and Wales
This case cites:

  • Appeal from – Belhaj and Another v Straw and Others QBD 20-Dec-2013
    The Claimants sought a declaration of illegality and claim damages arising from what they contend was the participation of the seven Defendants in their unlawful abduction, kidnapping and illicit removal across state borders to Libya in March 2004. . .
    (, [2013] EWHC 4111 (QB))

This case is cited by:

  • Cited – Belhaj and Another v Straw and Others SC 17-Jan-2017
    The claimant alleged complicity by the defendant, (now former) Foreign Secretary, in his mistreatment by the US while held in Libya. He also alleged involvement in his unlawful abduction and removal to Libya, from which had had fled for political . .
    (, [2017] UKSC 3, , [2017] HRLR 4, [2017] AC 964, [2017] 3 All ER 337, [2017] WLR(D) 51, [2017] 2 WLR 456, , UKSC 2014/0264, , , )

These lists may be incomplete.
Last Update: 21 November 2020; Ref: scu.538185