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
 
 

High Court declines to order sinle Iraq inquiry: Victims to appeal

In a lengthy judgment handed-down today (21 December 2010), the High Court refused to order that a Public Inquiry be established now into the 100s of allegations of mistreatment of Iraqi civilians in British detention and internment facilities in Iraq.  Instead, it has allowed more time for the Secretary of State for Defence to carry out his own internal investigations – by the Royal Military Police-lead “Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT)”.

 

The High Court has however confirmed earlier findings that the allegations do require an investigation compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and that together they also give rise to systemic issues which also require investigation, a point that was not conceded by the MoD.  The Court stated:

 

The prevalence of certain types of alleged abuse across a range of facilities and over a lengthy period of time raises questions as to whether such abuse, if it occurred, was the result of specific training or of deliberate policy or practice, or of a failure of supervision or inspection.” (para 113)

 

PIL argued that IHAT had been put in place at the start of 2010 after the judicial review was launched, and that it was a transparent response to the litigation and one which focused on individual soldiers’ culpability rather than an effective means of investigating the systemic causes behind hundreds of allegations that have been made since 2004 onwards.  PIL had been calling for an independent investigation throughout that period. 

 

The allegations had centred in particular on the Joint Forward Interrogation Team, a little-known military interrogation unit which had a permanent presence from 2003 to 2008 at the British internment facilities at, respectively, Camp Bucca, Shaibah Logistics Base and the Contingency Operating Base at Basra Air Station.  A video of one interrogation session was disclosed in connected proceedings and formed part of the evidence in the case (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/08/servicemen-uk-abu-ghraib-court-iraq).  It was only announced during the hearing that War Crimes charges against three soldiers had been referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions in one of the cases, lending further weight to the allegations.

 

Phil Shiner, the Solicitor for all of the Iraqis said today: 

 

We are bitterly disappointed, as are the 100s of Iraqi civilians we represent who will have to wait longer for the independent and effective investigation they have been calling for for years.  Their accounts detail 1000s of instances of sexual, physical and psychological abuse, abuse that clearly had systemic causes which cannot be investigated by an internal MoD investigation manned by the Royal Military Police.  We will appeal this verdict, but it is important to note that the court has not said that a public inquiry is unnecessary.  In our view today’s decision only postpones the independent and effective investigation that must surely take place.”

 

For further information, contact:

Public Interest Lawyers on 0121 515 5069

 

E-mail: info@publicinterestlawyers.co.uk


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