Article 2 and combat immunity – where next after Al-Skeini and Susan Smith?

British_soldier_during_Operation_Desert_ShieldR(Long) v Secretary of State for Defence [2014] EWHC 2391 (Admin) – read judgment

When will a court order an inquiry into the deaths in combat of soldiers serving overseas? Following recent judgments of the English and Strasbourg courts extending the application of the European Convention on Human Rights to zones of armed conflict overseas in certain circumstances, the question is likely to arise frequently over the coming years. In R(Long), the Divisional Court strongly endorsed the doctrine of combat immunity and appeared to set its face against the recent rise in claims against the MoD by soldiers deployed abroad and their next of kin.

This claim involved the deaths of six military police, who were murdered by an armed mob in Majar-al-Kabir, Iraq on 24 June 2003. They were visiting an Iraqi police station and, contrary to standing orders, did not have an iridium satellite telephone with them. The Oxfordshire Coroner had previously held an inquest into the deaths, which opened in 2004 and closed with an unlawful killing verdict on 31 March 2006. He dealt with the lack of effective communications equipment in a Rule 43 report (now a Report to Prevent Future Deaths), but it could not be said in the circumstances that, had they had a radio, their lives would have been saved. As the coroner said, the only person who might have been able to help them in time was the commander of a nearby paratroop patrol and he thought it possible that “had he endeavoured to help, I would be holding an inquest into the deaths not of six brave men but of 18” – [49].

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Drug-dealer passenger gets Euro-damages for car crash

weed_2929857bDelaney v. Secretary of State for Transport, Jay J, 3 June 2014 – read judgment 

Many readers may be wondering how it comes about that a drug-dealer is entitled to compensation against Her Majesty’s Government in circumstances where he was injured during the course of a criminal joint enterprise. The understandable reaction might be: there must be some rule of public policy, reflecting public revulsion, which bars such a claim. The short answer is that there is not.

Well put by the judge. Because as well as being the innocent victim of bad driving, the Claimant happened to have 240g of cannabis on him, and the negligent driver was found to have a smaller quantity. We are back in the familiar territory of ascertaining and applying a rule of law designed to compensate the injured without letting any free-floating moral disapproval get in the way of deciding what that law is. If, by contrast, you feel like a good dose of outrage, just click here for a link to a certain tabloid well-versed in all that.

The problem for the Secretary of State for Transport was, as the judge found, European Law required victims to be compensated in the circumstances, even if the driver’s insurance did not cover the claim. And there was no warrant for a domestic rule preventing such liabilities being paid by the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) or insurers whose job it was to provide compensation in accordance with European law.The judge therefore awarded Francovich damages (see below) against the UK for its breach in not conforming to EU law.

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Brain-damaged claimant fails in Article 8 claim against Council

7c70bb7581834f77a7ca9f20e4dc6253Bedford v. Bedfordshire County Council, 21 June 2013, Jay J - read judgment

On 29 May 2004, Bradley Bedford, then aged 13, was beaten senseless by one AH, then 15, whom he had the misfortune to encounter entirely by chance near the seaside in Torbay. AH was in a children’s home there which was contracted to the Defendant Council; AH was a “looked after” child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Bradley sued the Council for failing to protect him. His claim was limited to one under the Human Rights Act, and Article 8 ECHR in particular.

Jay J dismissed the claim on the grounds that (a) it was brought too late; (b) there was not a real and immediate risk of harm to Bradley of which the Council should have been aware; (c) even if there was, the local authority took reasonable steps to eliminate or substantially reduce any risk. All these rulings are of some interest.

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Damages for death and human rights


1362401166_wreathSwift v. Secretary of State for Justice, Court of Appeal, 18 February 2013 – read judgment – on appeal from Eady J, read judgment and my previous post

Ms Swift lost her live-in partner in an accident at work caused by negligence. She was pregnant with her partner’s child, but had only been living with him for 6 months. Had she been with him for 2 years, she could have claimed damages for his death under section 1(3) of the Fatal Accidents Act – set out at [1] of the CA judgment. She would then have been a “dependant” as defined under the FAA. So she argued that her rights under Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR were not properly respected by the law governing damages for the death of a relative – there was no justification for this stark cut-off – 1 year 11 months no claim, 2 years a claim. The judge refused to grant a declaration of incompatibility between the ECHR and the Fatal Accidents Act, and the Court of Appeal has just upheld his decision.

A lot of money turned on the point:  Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.

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How to keep children anonymous in personal injury cases

MXB v East Sussex Hospital Trust – read judgment

Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC of 1 Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. She has nothing to do with the writing of this post.

In personal injury proceedings involving a child it was appropriate to grant an anonymity order  prohibiting her identification since it would defeat the purpose of the proceedings to ensure that she received and kept compensation awarded for her injuries.

Publication of her name was not in the public interest, and the curtailment of her and her family’s right to respect for their private and family life that would occur could not be justified. Continue reading

Iraq soldier families can bring negligence but not human rights claims – Robert Kellar

Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence [2012] EWCA Civ 1365 – Read judgment

Updated – the first two paragraphs of this post have been amended as they were factually inaccurate. Many apologies for this.

Last month, the Court of Appeal decided that the negligence claims of the families of five British soldiers killed or injured on duty in Iraq could go ahead. It would be for the High Court to decide on the facts whether decisions made about troops’ equipment and training fell within the long-standing doctrine of ‘combat immunity’.  The appellants were however unsuccessful in arguing that the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) applied. 

The case concerned claims brought by the families of five men killed or injured in south-east Iraq.  Corporal Allbutt was killed and Troopers Twiddy and Julien injured in Challenger II tanks in fratricide, or ‘friendly fire’, incidents on 25 March 2003.  Privates Hewett and Ellis and Lance Corporal Redpath were killed in their Snatch Land Rovers by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on 16 July 2005, 28 February 2006 and 9 August 2007 respectively (the ‘Snatch Landrover claims’).

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The troubling case of Rachel Corrie

Almost ten years after the death of Rachel Corrie on 16 March 2003, her case still raises troubling questions. How was a 23-year-old protester killed by an Israeli military bulldozer? Did the driver do it deliberately, as the family have claimed? Were the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) responsible in some other way?

Those questions were all in play in a civil negligence claim brought against the Israeli state by Corrie’s family, who claimed $1 in damages. Having exhausted other avenues, the family were looking for answers, not a pay out. The Haifa District Court examined the issues over 15 days of oral testimony, and two weeks ago Judge Oded Gershon released a 73-page ruling (Hebrew) as well as a detailed summary of the Judgment (English).

I was particularly interested in the judgment as a significant proportion of my work recently has involved public inquiries into allegations against the British Armed Forces over events which happened in Iraq in 2003/4. Unfortunately, the reporting of the ruling has been fairly poor. The Guardian published eight articles and a cartoon about the ruling (by comparison, the appointment of a new Justice Secretary generated four). But despite the sheer volume of commentary, I had no sense from reading the articles that the writers had attended the oral hearings, read the judgment (which is long and in Hebrew) or even consider the court’s English summary. The Guardian’s legal section is very good so it is disappointing that the legal interest of the story was largely ignored.

With this in mind, I thought I would post a summary of the judgment and brief discussion of how an equivalent claim would work in the UK.

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