Promoting Justice /
Protecting Rights

CAJ has criticised the decision taken by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today to refuse a request to re-examine the ‘Hooded Men’ case in its Grand Chamber.

The case concerns the ‘interrogation in depth’ of the Hooded Men during their internment in 1971. While detained without charge or trial, these 14 men were subject to illegal interrogation methods by the British Army and RUC, known as the ‘five techniques’.

They were hooded, made to stand against a wall for prolonged periods, forced to listen to static noise, deprived of sleep, and deprived of food and water.

In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights held that the treatment amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, but not torture.

Following the discovery of new material held by the British government, which had not been disclosed to the Court in the original proceedings, the Irish government requested that the judgement be revised.

In March 2018, the ECHR refused the Irish government’s request for it to revise its judgement in the case. The Irish government then appealed this decision, asking for the case to be referred to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, but this referral was rejected today (1).

While the decision of the ECHR was a technical one, CAJ believes this outcome has worrying implications for human rights, and sends the wrong message on the use of such techniques.

Gemma McKeown, CAJ Solicitor, said: “This case is of profound importance not just for the victims of the five techniques, but for those who have and continue to be subjected to torture across the world. The artificial distinction between torture and inhuman and degrading treatment made in the original 1978 case has been used by other states to justify cruel interrogation methods on the basis that the methods do not constitute ‘torture’. This includes the US government’s claim during the presidency of George W. Bush that ‘waterboarding’ did not amount to torture.

“If this case was to be heard today, there is no doubt that the treatment that the men received would be seen as amounting to torture. As the High Court stated in 2017: ‘It seems likely…that if the events here at issue were to be replicated today the outcome would probably be that the European Court would accept the description of torture in respect to these events as accurate’. (2)

“It is also worth us remembering that the UK government had in fact accepted the preliminary finding of torture in 1976 and did not seek to contest this before the Court.”

In a separate legal case, CAJ is currently representing Mary McKenna in Court of Appeal proceedings in Northern Ireland seeking to secure a full criminal investigation into the torture of the Hooded Men, and in particular its authorisation by government ministers.

Mary McKenna’s father, Sean McKenna, was one of the Hooded Men, who died in 1975, never having fully recovered from his ordeal.

Mary commented: “I am deeply disappointed with this decision. My father died as a result of this torture. The fact that this is not recognised due to a legal technicality is shameful.”

Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator. Email or call 028 9031 6000. CAJ Solicitor Gemma McKeown is available for interview.


(2) Re. McGuigan and McKenna, Application for Judicial Review, delivered 27 October 2017


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