A group known as the Hooded Men have won the latest stage of a legal battle to force an investigation into alleged torture by the security forces in 1971.
The Court of Appeal in Belfast dismissed an appeal by police against a ruling that detectives should revisit a decision to end their inquiry.
Fourteen men claimed they were subjected to torture after being held without trial in Northern Ireland.
The dismissal of the police appeal was a majority decision by the judges.
The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Northern Ireland’s most senior judge, said on Friday the treatment of the men “would, if it occurred today, properly be characterised as torture”.
One of the three judges dissented with that conclusion.
Several of the “Hooded Men” – who were interned without trial during the Troubles – are elderly and some have since died but nine are alive.
They claim they were subjected to “deep interrogation” by the Army during their detention in Northern Ireland in 1971.
The men said they were forced to listen to constant loud static noise; deprived of sleep, food and water; forced to stand in a stress position and beaten if they fell.
They also said they were hooded and thrown from helicopters a short distance off the ground – before they fell they were told they were hundreds of feet in the air.
In 2014 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) decided there was not enough evidence to warrant an investigation.
But the PSNI’s decision was quashed by a High Court ruling in October 2017.
That ruling followed a legal challenge in the High Court by the surviving members of the group, who wanted a new investigation into how they were treated.
‘Hope for torture victims’
Their case against the PSNI has been supported by the human rights campaign group Amnesty International.
Grainne Teggart from Amnesty International said the appeal court ruling was a vindication for the men’s “fight for justice and offers hope for torture victims around the world”.
We must now urgently see an independent, human rights-compliant investigation into their torture, which was authorised at the highest levels of the UK government,” she said.
“Those responsible for sanctioning and carrying out their torture at all levels must be held accountable and, where possible, prosecuted.”
The case of the “Hooded Men” has been the subject of international legal action dating back more than 40 years.
In 1978 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that the UK had carried out inhuman and degrading treatment but fell short of defining that as torture.
In 2014 the Irish government said it would ask the ECHR to revise the 1978 judgement.
That was rejected by the ECHR in March last year.
The Irish government appealed the ruling that the UK did not torture the men – that appeal was rejected in September 2018.