The law lords heaped embarrassment on the Government over its anti-terror strategy for the second time in a year as they ruled that evidence obtained by torture should never be used in British courts.
In a landmark ruling, they demanded that the detention of eight foreign terrorist suspects should be re-examined by the secret anti- terror courts in case the crucial evidence against them had been extracted by torture.
Although Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, insisted the decision would not affect detainees already in custody, it raises the possibility that they could eventually be released.
And it leaves a serious question mark over government attempts to win promises from north African countries that they will not mistreat any terrorist suspects deported from Britain.
The law lords' unanimous, and strongly worded verdict comes 12 months after they ruled that the indefinite detention of foreign nationals was illegal and forced ministers to draw up fresh legislation to replace it.
Yesterday they left the Government with a fresh headache as they criticised the willingness of the state to countenance the use in court of information extracted under duress.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice, who headed the panel of law lords, said the English law had regarded 'torture and its fruits' with abhorrence for more than 500 years.
He said he was 'startled, even a little dismayed' that 'this deeply rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken' could be overriden by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which oversees the detention of terror suspects.
Lord Hoffmann, a fellow law lord, said the use of torture corrupted and degraded the state that used it and the legal system that accepted it. In a reference to Guantanamo Bay, he said that many Americans …