Friday 22 July 2011 by Jonathan Rayner
Human rights lawyers claimed a ‘historic’ victory this month in two landmark rulings in the European Court of Human Rights against the Ministry of Defence.
The Strasbourg judges ruled earlier this month that when UK forces are exercising public powers overseas, such as assuming responsibility for security in parts of Iraq, then the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – and by extension, the UK’s Human Rights Act - applies as it does in this country.
Birmingham firm Public Interest Lawyers principal Phil Shiner said the court had ‘shattered’ the UK government’s legal arguments that the ECHR did not apply to troops serving outside Europe.
Shiner, who is acting for the families of Iraqi civilians killed or wrongfully detained by British troops in Basra, said: ‘This monumental breakthrough in the struggle for accountability was a historic judgment for human rights in Europe and beyond. It has left the MoD with its collective heart shredded - if it has one.’
Immediate past Law Society president Linda Lee, welcoming the judgments, said: ‘It cannot be right to ignore the ECHR simply on the basis that the breach has occurred outside the UK. The principles which form the foundation of our commitment to human rights must be upheld wherever UK representatives, military or otherwise, operate.’
In the case of Al-Skeini and Others v the UK, the UK is now required to conduct an independent investigation into the killing of six civilians during security operations carried out by UK troops in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
In the case of Al-Jedda v the UK, the court found that the UK had violated Al-Jedda’s article five right to liberty and security by detaining him for more than three years without charge in a Basra prison run by UK troops. Al-Jedda can now start proceedings against the UK government.