Ireland’s bid to reopen ‘hooded men’ torture case fails in Europe

ECHR maintains judgment on 1970s interrogation techniques used against prisoners in North

Pictured  in 2014 at  ‘Hooded Men’ Amnest Press conference in Dublin from left Francis Mc Guigan, Micheal Donnelly, Patrick Mc Nally Brian Turley and Kevin Hannaway. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Pictured in 2014 at ‘Hooded Men’ Amnest Press conference in Dublin from left Francis Mc Guigan, Micheal Donnelly, Patrick Mc Nally Brian Turley and Kevin Hannaway. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Ireland has failed in a bid to reopen the “hooded men” case against the UK over its alleged torture of prisoners in the North in the 1970s.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg on Tuesday rejected a referral back to it of the case of Ireland v United Kingdom, refusing to revise its 1978 finding that the men had not been “tortured”.

The original decision of the ECHR found five interrogation techniques used against prisoners in the North during the Troubles, in August and October 1971, constituted “inhuman and degrading treatment”, in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights but did not rise to the level of “torture”.

In 2014, following an RTE broadcast The Torture Files on the handling of the case based on newly opened official archives in Kew, London, the Irish Government sought to have the case reopened. It wanted to challenge the “torture” finding. It claimed the new documents could have had a decisive influence on the court’s judgment had they been known to the court at the time of the judgment.

In March 2018, a restricted chamber of the full court rejected that request by six votes to one, with the Irish-appointed judge Siofra O’Leary dissenting. Tuesday’s decision of the full court confirmed that finding.

Interrogation techniques

The UK has argued that the new documents would not have affected the decision and that it was moot anyway because the techniques were no longer in use or to be used, and that the victims had been compensated in civil cases.

The five interrogation techniques included: wall-standing stress position – the prisoners were forced to remain spreadeagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above their head against the wall, their legs spread apart and feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers. Other interrogation techniques were hooding, when a black or navy coloured bag was put over their’ heads; noise, when prisoners were held in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise; sleep deprivation; and food and drink – a reduced diet during their stay at the centre and pending interrogations.

The Irish authorities argued in its case for the reopening, that at the time of the original case the UK had information within its possession, including medical reports from a testifying doctor demonstrating that the effects of the five techniques could be substantial, severe and long-lasting. While that government, through his evidence, had alleged that the effects were minor and short-term.

Ireland claimed the archive material also revealed the extent to which, at the relevant time, the UK had adopted and implemented a policy of withholding information from the court about key facts concerning the five techniques. This withheld information included that the use of the techniques had been authorised at ministerial level and their purpose in doing so. It allegedly showed a pattern of preventing the court from accessing the full truth about the five techniques.

The Grand Chamber endorsed the earlier finding that that the Government of Ireland had not demonstrated the existence of facts that were unknown to the court at the time or which would have had a decisive influence on the original judgment. There was therefore no justification to revise the judgment.

Campaign not over

Darragh Mackin solicitor for a number of Hooded Men said the disappointing decision was “no surprise” and it was hard not to think the court was “was hiding behind nuanced procedure to shield itself from the thorny issue at the heart of this case.”

For too long the original ruling has been used by international states as a “battering ram against human rights protections, when utilising torturous techniques,” he said.

However he said the campaign was not over and they awaited an Belfast court judgment in which the PSNI chief constable appealed a decision that “requires the identification and prosecution of those individuals whom perpetrated and authorised the techniques are held accountable.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney noted the decision does not alter the 1978 judgment that the victims suffered inhuman and degrading treatment. He said the men had campaigned with “dignity and determination” for many years “to maintain human rights standards for all,” he said.

Amnesty Ireland said it still considered the men were tortured, research and legal manager Fiona Crowley said. She said the decision was not a finding the five techniques fall short of torture by today’s standards and if the case were heard afresh today was confident it would be deemed torture. She commended the State for persisting in its efforts.