Public Interest Lawyers is an extraordinary firm of solicitors, who must be – certainly should be – the pride of the legal profession. Through their tenacity, quality and sheer hard work – often from unpromising beginnings and in dark times for public funding – they have single-handedly been responsible for shining the torchlight of legal accountability in a range of new areas. The work continues unabated. No barrister or judge, here or in Strasbourg, could have come to deal with the sorts of human rights issues which PIL continues to raise, but for their principled and brave pursuit of justice.

 

PIL demonstrates three further important things. First, how positive and constructive can be the use of public funding in public law cases, in the public interest. It has been hard. But PIL and the LSC have forged a partnership which is second to none, as to the importance of the cases that are brought, their success and their wider impact. Secondly, PIL demonstrates that London does not always lead, and a London-centric focus is neither helpful nor fair. This firm, from what are still sometimes thought of as “the provinces”, is the nation’s leader for human rights application in challenging cases. That PIL is looking, as a Birmingham-based firm. How refreshing for it to be that way.Thirdly, let it not be forgotten that PIL was set up as a new firm of solicitors. This is not the further and continued work of an established firm, set up long ago when times were different. This was an innovation; a leap of faith in the rule of law. It was a boat launched in a sea of uncertainty, which has turned out to be the flagship for public law accountability under the rule of law.

 

Michael Fordham QC
Michael Fordham QC
 
 

European Court Issues Historic Judgment on British Army in Iraq

The highest court in Europe – the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights – has this morning handed down one of its most important judgments ever, involving the alleged ill-treatment and unlawful killing of Iraqi citizens by UK Armed Forces.  See the European Court’s official press release (attached to this email).  Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), which represents the Applicants in the case as well as hundreds of other Iraqi civilians, welcomed the judgment.

 

The immediate ramifications for the Ministry of Defence are highly significant.  The Court’s ruling means that a whole host of Iraqi victims, previously prevented from accessing justice, are now finally to seek redress for their abuse.  For the first time, they will be able to go to the High Court in London and force Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence, to order a public inquiry into the actions of British soldiers in their cases.  The cases the MoD now must face include the following:

 

1.     Hanaan Salih Matrood, an eight year-old girl who died of massive abdominal injuries after being shot by a British patrol whilst playing in an alleyway near her home on 21 August 2003.

 

(see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/hanans-killing-has-become-a-symbol-of-a-flawed-occupation-555148.html);

 

2.     Sabiha Khudur Talib, a 62 year-old grandmother dragged from her home uninjured during a night raid by British troops in November 2006.  Several hours later, Iraqi police found her corpse in a British body-bag on the Az-Zubayr Highway.  They noted “signs of torture” and a bullet hole in her abdomen (See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/uk-troops-executed-iraqi-grandmother-1863887.html);

 

3.      “Samir”, a teenage boy raped by two British soldiers in succession in May 2003.  Whilst being subjected to forced labour, Samir walked into a room and found the soldiers performing an oral sex act on each other.  They raped him one after the other, before slashing his wrists and sending him away.  Samir has never spoken of the events to anyone other than his lawyer, Daniel Carey. His are some of the most serious allegations against the UK emerging from the Iraq war (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/sep/14/iraq-rape-british-soldiers-accused);

 

4.     Memmon Al-Maliki, a 12 year-old boy injured in April 2003 by a munition lying near his home whilst he was playing football.  The MoD accepts that Memmon was picked up by a passing British patrol and taken for medical treatment at a British field hospital.  His family has not seen him since and Memmon’s father’s desperate attempts to obtain information as to his whereabouts were treated with contempt by British Forces (see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1307589/Probe-Iraqi-boy-missing-7-years-taken-British-Army-care.html);

 

5.     Bariq Abdul-Razzaq (aged 12) and Muslim Sami Abdul Hassan (aged 14), relentlessly punched and kicked by a large group of British soldiers.  The gratuitous attack was recorded on video (http://www.metacafe.com/watch/818203/uk_news_of_the_world_shows_british_troops_beating_iraqi_youth/) and shown on BBC television in February 2006;

 

6.     Huda Gattan Hassan, shot dead by British Forces in a field in Majar-al-Kabir during the fire-fight known as “the Battle of Danny Boy” on 14 May 2004.  Huda was just seven years old when she was killed;

 

7.     Fourteen year-old “Hassan”, stripped to his underwear and forced to carry boxes at a UN humanitarian depot by British soldiers.  He was beaten and sexually abused, with one British soldier forcing his penis into Hassan’s mouth.  Hassan, now 22, has been deeply traumatised by his abuse;

 

8.     The cases of Iraqi women ill-treated by British soldiers in their homes, causing some of them to suffer miscarriages.  These include:

 

a)     Samahir Hashim, who was six months pregnant on 21 June 2006.  Samahir was kicked in the back by a female British soldier as she ran to protect her youngest child during a house raid.  She lost her baby as a result of the incident;

 

b)    The wife of Alaa’ Jassim, humiliated by British soldiers whilst in her nightrobe.  The following day she suffered a miscarriage;

 

c)     The wife of Hussein Khinyab, injured during a night raid on her home.  She was left to bleed for hours and lost two pints of blood, and miscarried;

 

d)    Sajjad Nassir’s wife, struck by  British rifle butt in the stomach, causing her to miscarry; and

 

e)     Ali Zaki Mousa’s sister, whose breasts were groped by a British soldier.  She and her mother were verbally abused and referred to as “bitches”.

 

The judgment also means that other incidents not previously brought before the courts now can be, such as the abuse of Baha Mousa and his colleagues in the hotel at which they were captured.   This included Baha and the other male Muslims arrested with him being kicked, trodden on and having dirty toilet water flushed over them by British soldiers.  The British Army may also now face litigation over “Operation Raker” – currently being investigated by the MoD’s Iraq Historic Allegations Team – during which a number of Iraqi men were loaded into an RAF helicopter.  By the time the helicopter had landed, one of the men was dead and another seriously injured.

 

Phil Shiner, who leads the team at Public Interest Lawyers said this morning:

 

“This is a monumental judgment.  Today is a historic day for human rights in Europe and beyond, and an important day for our clients, many of whom can now force what the MoD has long-denied them – a public inquiry uncovering the truth about what the British Army did to them and their loved ones.”

 

Jim Duffy, another of the victims’ solicitors said:

 

“The Court’s judgment sends a clear message: wherever soldiers or other state agents act, they must do so whilst upholding, not violating, human rights.  The violence, religious degradation, sexual abuse and, in many cases, gratuitous killing suffered by our clients must now be confronted.”

 


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