Jones v UK and Mitchell & Ors v UK

Forum: European Court of Human Rights
INTERIGHTS' role: Third party interveners
Keywords: Torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, state immunity, remedies

INTERIGHTS, together with the Redress Trust, Amnesty International, and JUSTICE filed a third party intervention before the European Court of Human Rights in the joined cases of Jones v UK and Mitchell & Ors v UK (Application Numbers: 34356/06 and 40528/06) on 24 February 2010.

The cases have been brought by three British citizens and one dual national of the UK and Canada who allege that they were tortured in Saudi Arabia.  They tried to bring a civil suit against both the foreign state and certain named officials in the English courts but were denied access on the basis of immunity (see below for further details). 

The intervention focuses on why the officials should not be protected by immunity from being sued by victims of torture. In so doing it begins by setting out the special status of the absolute prohibition of torture under international law and why the adjudication of allegations of torture is necessary in order to uphold victims’ right to an effective remedy and full and adequate reparation and to combat impunity.  It goes on to establish that the only potentially available immunity to the officials named in this case is subject matter immunity (i.e. the commission of acts which are solely attributable to the state) which does not apply in cases in which torture is alleged under international law. The intervention then sets out why preventing a victim from suing when torture is alleged on the grounds of subject matter immunity breaches the duty under Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights to provide everyone within the state’s jurisdiction with the right to access a court.  In particular, the intervention highlights a number of significant factors in relation to torture and the right of victims to secure redress which should be taken into account in an assessment of the proportionality of restricting the right to access a court under Article 6, including the special status of torture and whether an alternative means of redress exists. 

The case provides the Court with the first opportunity to consider the immunity of foreign officials for acts of torture in civil litigation and could mark a watershed in the evolution of the relationship between the doctrine of state immunity law and  human rights.

Click here to read the intervention.

For further information, please contact Helen Duffy at

INTERIGHTS was also involved in a joint intervention in the case when it was before the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, Jones v Saudi Arabia.

Forum: Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, United Kingdom
INTERIGHTS' role: Amicus curiae
Keywords: Torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, state immunity, remedies

Four British citizens, Ron Jones, Alexander Mitchell, Dr William Sampson and Leslie Walker were falsely accused of involvement in a bombing campaign in Riyadh in 2001 and 2002, a campaign now understood to have been launched by a Saudi opposition group. During their time in prison, all of the victims allege that they were repeatedly tortured and all continue to endure severe psychological and physical harm as a result. Ron Jones was released after 67 days without any charge or any legitimate reason for his detention. Following two and half years in solitary confinement and being subjected to torture Mitchell, Sampson and Walker made televised false confessions to the bombings and to acting as spies under the orders of the UK government. After a secret trial, a Saudi Court sentenced Mitchell and Sampson to death by partial beheading and Walker to 18 years in prison. Following worldwide protests and more than 900 days in captivity they were eventually released on an order of clemency.

The claims were for damages including aggravated and exemplary damages for torture, assault and battery, trespass to the person, and unlawful imprisonment against the Saudi officials said to be responsible for these crimes, and the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, the principal government agency responsible for the treatment of prisoners and detainees.

INTERIGHTS intervened in the case together with REDRESS, Amnesty International and Justice. Keir Starmer QC, Peter Morris and Laura Dubinksy of Doughty Street Chambers and Raju Bhatt of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors acted on a pro bono basis for the intervenors.

Related links

Press Release: [14 June 2007] UK House of Lords Upholds State Immunity for Torture

INTERIGHTS' amicus curiae brief

Judgment of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords

The Guardian: Victims lose Saudi torture case

The Independent: 'Torture' Britons lose bid to sue Saudis

BBC News: Saudi 'torture' Britons lose case