Ministers are accused of routinely providing legal cover for the intelligence services where there is a possibility of information being extracted through torture abroad, the Guardian reports today.

Human rights group Reprieve is launching a judicial review of the practice of authorisations by ministers under section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 - the so-called 'James Bond' clause which  provides a legal amnesty for the security services to commit abroad what would otherwise be crimes - in cases involving detainees overseas.  A pattern of using this clause in such cases was revealed by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) in June. 

The report of the ISC, which is chaired by the former attorney general Dominic Grieve, said: “We have found that, when SIS [MI6] or GCHQ refer a consolidated guidance case [about detainees abroad] to ministers, they routinely seek, in parallel, an authorisation under section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which can provide protection for their officers from domestic civil and criminal liability.”

Reprieve alleges that the section 7 authorisations are “the modern equivalent of the torture warrants [for interrogation] issued by the privy council” in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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