UK government bans export of lethal injection drugs to US

By agency reporter
November 29, 2010

After resisting Reprieve’s efforts to secure a ban on the export of Sodium Thiopental to the US for execution purposes for a month, Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, today (29 November 2010), agreed to impose such an order.

Originally, Cable refused to act for two reasons: the suggestion that if Britain did not provide the drugs someone else would, and the notion that sodium thiopental was exported to the US for medical purposes.

Reprieve said that the first reason was unworthy of a response – if something is immoral, it does not matter that someone else will commit the offence. Working with the law firm Leigh Day, Repreive proved that no sodium thiopental was imported from Europe to the US for any medicinal use, and that it would be illegal to do so under the regulations promulgated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

To their credit, Archimedes Pharma, which may unwittingly have been the source of the drugs used to execute prisoners, did not oppose the ban. Furthermore, the pharmaceutical company actively supported the effort to prove that the drugs were not legitimately imported into the US.

Reprieve's Director, Clive Stafford Smith said: “All politicians should be congratulated when they admit a mistake, and it is a credit to Vince Cable that he has backed down. However, there is urgent work to do. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – so named, notwithstanding their plan to execute a number of prisoners – expects to receive enough drugs to kill 86 people this week, perhaps as early as today, probably again from Britain. The British government must take active and urgent steps to prevent this from happening, and to make up for the delay in imposing a ban.”

He continued,“Let me congratulate Archimedes Pharma for doing the right thing as well. This should be a lesson to other companies that purport to be ethical – words are not enough. You have to take action.”

Jamie Beagent of Leigh Day & Co said: “We are pleased that the Secretary of State has finally come to recognise that banning the export of drugs from the UK for use in executions overseas is the morally right thing to do. His decision to add sodium thiopental to the list of goods whose export from the UK is controlled is to be welcomed. It is only a shame that it necessitated legal proceedings to bring him to this conclusion.”

Repreive s a legal action charity which uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. It promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.

It continues to represent a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.