soldier uk
© Reuters / Neil Hall
A soldier stands outside the Ministry of Defence in London
The UK government has been accused of developing a secret policy that allows ministers to break the law by authorizing intelligence-sharing with allies where there is a serious risk of torture of detainees.

Ministry of Defence (MoD) documents released under a freedom of information request, dated November 2018, have revealed a provision that allows cabinet ministers to pass on information that could lead to abuse of detainees, according to the Times. The UK government denies any wrongdoing.

Kirsty Brimelow, QC, former chairwoman of the Bar human rights committee, insists the law is "clear and established internationally and nationally" on the prohibition of torture and this policy allows UK ministers to break that law.

The policy document does acknowledge that there is a presumption that the UK will not share information when there is "serious risk" of torture. However, it goes on to state that this can be overridden if "ministers agree that the potential benefits justify accepting the risk and the legal consequences that may follow."

Last year, a number of human rights organizations, including Reprieve, Redress and Amnesty International wrote to the then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, claiming that the UK was seeking to modify or even "water down" its guidelines on torture.

The government issued an apology in May 2018 for Britain's role in the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan opponent of Colonel Gaddafi, and his pregnant wife in 2004. Belhaj said that they were abducted by the CIA in Thailand and handed to Gaddafi's regime, where he was tortured, after a tip-off from British intelligence.

The UK government has rejected the claims. An MoD spokesman said its policies were fully compliant with "the Cabinet Office's consolidated guidance."