‘Hooded men’ want State to decide in review of ECHR finding

European court found men subject to ‘inhuman’ treatment by British army, not torture

Several men detained by the British army in 1971 want the High Court to compel the State decide whether to seek to revise a controversial European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) finding they were subject to "inhuman and degrading" treatment but not "torture".

One of the men, Francis McGuigan said assurances were given by the British government in the 1970s the techniques would not be used again but they have since been used in aid of interrogation in places including Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

Mr McGuigan also said former British foreign secretary William Hague had in 2013 apologised for the use of the techniques in Kenya during the 1950s. In his apology, Mr Hague described the use of the techniques as torture, Mr McGuigan added.

Mr McGuigan is one of the group, known as "the hooded men", who want the Irish Government to apply to have the ECHR's decision revised on grounds of new evidence revealed in an RTÉ programme supporting their claims they were tortured.


Ronan Lavery QC, for six of the men, said a revision application must be made within six months of new information coming to light. The ECHR’s deadline is strict and will expire on December 4th, he outlined.

Mr Lavery said the 1978 ECHR judgment is important and was used by former US President George Bush. The statement a wide array of acts do not amount to torture appeared to permit an aggressive interpretation of the judgment under inernational law, he said.

President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, adjourned the matter to Monday when he will hold a "telescoped" hearing involving the applications for permisison to bring the case, and the action itself, being treated as one.

The action is brought by Francis McGuigan, Jim Auld, Patrick McNally, Gerard McKerr, Liam Shannon, Kevin Hannaway, Michael Donnell, Brian Turley, Joe Clark, Paddy Joe McClean,  Tony Shiver on behalf of the late Pat Shivers, and Deirdre Montgomery on behalf of the late Michael Montgomery.   All live in Northern Ireland.

All 12 men were detained in 1971 and subjected to five sensory deprivation techniques at the Ballykelly British Army Base in Co Derry including prolonged hooding, continuous loud noise, sleep deprivation, food and water deprivation and forced stress positions.

The Irish Government brought a complaint against the UK Government to the ECHR about their treatment. In 1978 the ECHR ruled the techniques constituted inhuman and degrading treatment but not “torture”.  The court said a special stigma was attached to torture as deliberate inhuman treatment causing very serious and cruel suffering.

The ECHR conclusion was based on medical evidence produced for the UK government which suggested the effect of the five techniques, including psychiatric problems suffered by the men, were "minor" and due to "everyday life" in Northern Ireland at the time rather than torture techniques.

RTÉ programme ‘The Torture Files’, presented by journalist Rita O’Reilly, revealed last June that evidence produced to the ECHR was deliberately misleading. The new evidence emerged following research conducted at the British National Archives.

The men, now aged in their sixties, seventies and eighties, and their families, now want the 1978 decision revised so they can make further submissions about their treatment.

Their lawyers asked the Government to make a decision to seek a revision but, despite several requests to the Attorney General, no decision has been made, the High Court heard.

Arising out of that failure, the men have brought proceedings against Ireland, the Attorney General and Minister for Foreign Affairs. They want orders compelling the State parties to decide whether they should apply to the ECHR for a revision of the 1978 decision.

Two of the men, Mr  McGuigan and Kevin Hannaway, were in court on Friday and both described the 1978 ruling as “a nonsense”. They said they wanted the matter reopened as they are still affected by the trauma experienced at Ballykelly 43 years ago.

In their action, the group claim the State’s continuing failure to make a decision is unreasonable, contrary to constitutional and natural justice and contrary to its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.