Britain's highest court ruled Thursday that evidence that may have been obtained through torture in other countries cannot be used in British courts.
A panel of Law Lords, Britain's highest appellate authority, upheld an appeal by 10 foreigners who were detained in England on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. They were held based on secret testimony that came from abroad through foreign intelligence services, according to lawyers for the men.
Both sides in the case agreed that information obtained by British officials through torture was inadmissible.
At issue was whether the ban also applied to evidence obtained that way by foreign governments. Lawyers for the detained men argued that it did, while the government, saying it had no intention of using such evidence, contended that there should be no blanket prohibition.
The Law Lords took the case after the lower court of appeal ruled last year in favor of the government.
Gareth Peirce, a human rights lawyer representing the detainees, said in an interview that the men were never told of the evidence against them but that she suspected it was "a cocktail of international information" that could have included testimony from prisoners held in U.S. military bases in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bagram, Afghanistan.
"There is a hypocrisy here," she said. "Our government may occasionally criticize what the U.S. is doing but is nonetheless very happy to use the product of interrogative conduct that abuses individual human rights."
Most of the men, who are from Algeria, Jordan and Libya, have been held since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
James Hope, one of the judges in the case, said in his written opinion that some practices authorized by U.S. authorities in the Guantanamo Bay prison "would shock the conscience if they were ever to be authorized for use in our own country."
Another judge, Donald Nicholls, drew a distinction between the work of police and courts. "If the police were to learn of the whereabouts of a ticking bomb, it would be ludicrous for them to disregard this information if it had been procured by torture," he said, adding, "It is an altogether different matter for the judicial arm of the state to admit such information as evidence."
A spokesman for Amnesty International called the decision "momentous."
In a statement, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the ruling would have "no bearing on the Government's efforts to combat terrorism," because government cases did not rely on evidence "which we know or believe to have been obtained by torture."