UK Supreme Court finds Government’s decision to provide information to the United States to facilitate prosecution for crimes carrying the death penalty unlawful

In a unanimous decision delivered on 25 March 2020, the Supreme Court held that the UK Government had acted unlawfully in providing or agreeing to provide material to the United States, without seeking assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed.  The case was heard before an enlarged panel of seven Justices.

The appeal concerned two individuals, Shafee El Sheik and Alexanda Kotey, who were alleged to be part of a group of terrorists operating in Syria, involved in the murder of British and US citizens. This case was brought by the mother of Shafee El Sheik, Ms Maha Elgizouli, who applied for judicial review of the then-Home Secretary’s decision to knowingly facilitate the possible imposition of the death penalty in the United States.

The Death Penalty Project was admitted by the Court to intervene in these proceedings because of its long-standing expertise in the area of death penalty and international human rights law.

Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director, says:

“It has never been in dispute that Mr El Sheik and Mr Kotey should face trial for the serious crimes alleged against them, but any trial, if it is to take place, should be held in the UK. We intervened in this case because we believed the earlier actions of the UK Government were contrary to its long-standing approach on the death penalty, and could lead to a death sentence being imposed or carried out.

The importance of this decision is wider than just this case. It has implications for any individual who may be facing the death penalty and concerns what assurances the UK Government must seek before deciding what help or assistance it may give. These are fundamental issues concerning the right to life. The UK abolished the death penalty over 50 years ago and the Government must hold true to its commitment to oppose capital punishment in all circumstances and as a matter of principle.”