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Concern over rise in requests for UK to share intelligence despite torture risks

The number of requests for UK ministerial approval of intelligence-sharing where there was a real risk of torture, unlawful killing or extraordinary rendition has more than doubled in a year.

The investigatory powers commissioner’s report outlining the rise comes after a parliamentary debate on Monday in which MPs from across the political divide questioned the adequacy of the UK’s policy on torture under the Fulford principles.

The human rights group Reprieve said that the increase to eight cases in 2022 – from three in 2021 – in which approval was sought for intelligence-sharing with overseas authorities where there was a real risk of torture, unlawful killing or extraordinary rendition was concerning.

Dan Dolan, Reprieve’s director of policy and advocacy, said: “These ministerial referrals represent real people at risk of being tortured – something our government professes to find abhorrent.

“When the number of requests is doubling, and officials have admitted 95% get signed off, it’s clear the system is broken. The Fulford principles are not fit for purpose and it’s good to see MPs calling for their reform.”

The 95% figure refers to the entire spectrum of cases in which authorisation is sought – 104 in total in 2022, 17 of which had a real risk of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment (CIDT) – so it is unknown whether approval was given in individual cases.

UK government policy is that it “does not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone” any of these activities but critics say that the ministerial approval system contradicts this statement.

Monday’s Commons debate concerned the investigatory powers (amendment) bill and included discussion of a new clause three tabled by the Conservative MP David Davis, which would create an absolute prohibition on handing over information to an overseas authority where there was a possibility of torture or CIDT.

He told MPs: “I am afraid that, each year, we are seeing more cases in which the UK seeks to share intelligence despite a real risk of torture.

“There is no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job, but getting mixed up in torture does nothing to keep us safe. It undermines the civilised values that we stand for.”

Labour’s Dan Jarvis, the shadow security minister, said clause three “raises important issues of accountability when sharing intelligence with foreign governments that could result in torture, not least in relation to the parameters of the decision-making process by foreign secretaries … [and] raises important questions about the sufficiency of the Fulford principles”.

A government spokesperson said: “The UK government does not participate in, solicit, encourage, or condone the use of torture or of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment for any purpose.

“Our priority is the safety and security of the UK and the people who live here. We welcome IPCO’s [Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office’s] critical oversight role, ensuring the proportionate use of investigatory powers by our intelligence and security agencies and partners.”