​‘Human rights breaches’: Families of Iraqis shot by UK troops could sue MoD

British soldiers in November 5, 2004, south west of Baghdad, Iraq. (Reuters /  Maurice McDonald)
Grieving families of Iraqis gunned down by British soldiers in Iraq may sue Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) for violating international law following a landmark High Court ruling.

In the court’s judgement cases where Iraqis were killed or wounded by British soldiers fall within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.

The milestone ruling could pave the way for over 1,200 claims, brought by Iraqi families. British law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), which specializes in judicial review cases relating to human rights violations, would represent the claimants.

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The MoD told RT on Thursday it is “concerned” the High Court has adopted such an “expansive view of ECHR jurisdiction.”

It warned the landmark ruling would open up a tidal wave of “opportunistic” lawsuits against the government that would have to be “investigated and litigated at heavy cost to taxpayers.”

It insisted it plans to challenge the High Court’s judgment in Britain’s Court of Appeal.

Under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the UK has a duty to investigate claims of wrongdoing committed on its behalf. The extent to which the Convention can be applied to the actions of British soldiers in Iraq has previously sparked legal conjecture.

Britain’s First Secretary of State William Hague previously said Iraqis who were detained by British forces, but not killed, had rights under the Convention.

However, Iraqi claimants seeking justice for their deceased loved ones argue Article 1 of the Convention should also apply to those shot by UK armed forces during Britain’s 8-year occupation of Iraq.

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Article 1 of the ECHR compels states to respect basic human rights in the jurisdictions they govern, including the right to life, the right to freedom from torture, and the right to a fair trial.

The MoD rejects the argument that Iraqis killed during UK security operations fall under Britain’s jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, Mr Justice Leggatt ruled on Tuesday that Article 1 of the Convention applies to “those test cases where the individual was shot by a British soldier.”

Leggatt, who has dealt extensively with cases involving Iraqis, argued Article 1 of the Convention was relevant for two reasons.

He said “such shootings occurred in the course of security operations in which British forces were exercising public powers that would normally be exercised by the government of Iraq.”

Additionally, he stressed Article 1 applies because “shooting someone involves the exercise of physical power over that person.”

Leggatt went on to say in cases where a soldier killed a person during armed battle, the killing would be considered legal as long as it complied with international humanitarian law. In such cases, families of deceased Iraqis would not be permitted to file for compensation from the British government.

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Colonel Richard Kemp, an ex-commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said Leggat’s judgment was “absurd.”

“The prospect that every time British troops shoot or shell an enemy in battle they can be put before a court is beyond parody and utterly preposterous,” he told the Daily Mail.

“How on earth are our troops expected to attack the enemy or to defend themselves knowing that every shot they fire could land them in court?”

PIL, which represents most of the claimants, said it expected a flood of claims to emerge by the close of March 2015. The number of cases could be as many as 1,230, the Birmingham-based law firm said.

In a statement, PIL said Justice Legatt had “ruled that in respect of all the 1,200 plus judicial review cases he is dealing with, all of the following stations are within the jurisdiction of the ECHR.

“This is a very important judgment clarifying the application of the ECHR not just to UK personnel in Iraq but for future international peacekeeping operations and situations of armed conflict involving the UK.”

“It is very likely that this important question of legal principle will be appealed by the UK government and heard by the Supreme Court,” the law firm added.