A Bahraini prince was on Tuesday stripped of his diplomatic protection from an investigation into allegations that he was involved in torture after prosecutors admitted they had wrongly granted him immunity.
Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is the son of the King of Bahrain and a frequent visitor to Britain, could face a fresh inquiry by Scotland Yard into allegations that he beat political prisoners during democracy protests in the wealthy Gulf state in 2011 that left dozens dead or imprisoned.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had previously insisted that Prince Nasser qualified for immunity from prosecution as a member of the Bahraini royal family and in his personal capacity as commander of the country’s Royal Guard. The prince strongly denies the torture claims and the Bahraini authorities insist there is insufficient evidence against him to sustain an investigation.
But two years after the complaint against him was first brought by a Bahraini refugee now living in Britain, the CPS performed a U-turn in the High Court and admitted that its decision had been wrong. The announcement was made on the day that a judicial review hearing had been due to begin into the claim that the original decision made on behalf of Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders was “erroneous in law”.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the complainant, known only as FF, said the ruling should pave the way for a fresh scoping investigation by Scotland Yard into the allegations against the prince. But the CPS said that police had previously decided there were “number of reasons” why an investigation could not be pursued.
Tom Hickman, representing the claimant, known only as FF, told the court: “As far as the claimant is concerned, the DPP’s position represents a long over-due recognition that Prince Nasser does not benefit from immunity for acts of torture in proceedings in the United Kingdom.”
He added: “We say that the decision clears the way for an investigation of the prince and consent for an arrest warrant to be sought. There is evidence that will be submitted to the police in due course.”
Torture carried out by a public official anywhere in the world is an offence in Britain under the provisions of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, making it possible to try allegations of maltreatment committed abroad in the English courts.
The lifting of immunity from Prince Nasser, a graduate from Sandhurst and a keen equestrian sportsman who regularly visits Britain for events, means he could now be investigated by the War Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan Police.
The claim against him alleges that he was “directly involved” in the torture of at least two individuals in prison in Bahrain in April 2011.
In a statement, the Government of Bahrain claimed the proceedings against the prince were "politically motivated" and said there was an absence of evidence against him which could justify his arrest.
It said it had never sought any sovereign or personal immunity in the English courts and therefore had no view on the CPS ruling.
The statement said: "This has been an ill-targeted, politically-motivated and opportunistic attempt to misuse the British legal system. The Government of Bahrain again categorically denies the allegations against Sheikh Nasser."
By Cahal Milmo
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