The oversight of the conduct of British soldiers in Iraq has been subject of two recent developments. The first is political, as Prime Minister Theresa May has renewed criticism of investigations into allegations of criminal behaviour of British troops. The second is legal, with the Court of Appeal offering clarification as to the role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad. However, comments by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have since thrown into doubt the future role of the ECHR in conflicts abroad.
Al-Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence  EWCA Civ 811, 9 September 2016 – read judgment
This is an extremely important judgment from the Court of Appeal on the reach of the ECHR into war zones, in this case Iraq. The CA, with the only judgment given by Lloyd Jones LJ, disagreed in part with Leggatt J – for whose judgment see Dominic Ruck Keene’s post here.
3 main points arose on appeal.
The first was the jurisdictional question under Art.1 of the Convention – were Iraqi civilians killed or injured by British servicemen covered by the ECHR?
The second is the extent to which the UK is under a duty to investigate ECHR violations alleged by Iraqis, under Arts 3 (torture) and 5 (unlawful detention).
And the third is the question of whether the UN Torture Convention could be relied upon in domestic law proceedings.
I shall cover the first point in this post. The blog will cover the other points shortly. The points arose by way of preliminary legal issues in various test cases drawn from the 2,000 or so Iraqi claimants.
Al-Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 715 – read judgment
The High Court has ruled that the ECHR applies to situations where Iraqi civilians were shot during security operations conducted by British soldiers. When taken together with the parallel cases being brought against the MOD for breach of its Article 2 obligations towards its own soldiers, it appears increasingly likely that any operation undertaken by the British Army in the future will lead to legal challenges being brought against almost every aspect of its actions pre, during and post any use of military force.
Mr Justice Leggatt was asked to consider the scope of the UK’s duty under the ECHR to investigation allegations of wrongdoing by British Forces in Iraq. The Secretary of State accepted that anyone taken into custody by British Forces did have certain rights under the ECHR, in particular the right to life and the right not to be tortured. However, the one of two key areas of controversy were whether non detainee civilians who were killed outside the period when the UK was an ‘occupying power’ (1 May 2003 – 28 June 2004), were within the jurisdiction of the UK for the purposes of Article 1 of the ECHR. Continue reading →
Hassan v. the United Kingdom (application no. 29750/09) ECHR 936 (16 September 2014) – read judgment
This case concerned the capture of an Iraqi national, Tarek Hassan, by the British armed forces and his detention at Camp Bucca in southeastern Iraq during the hostilities in 2003. The complaint was brought by his brother, who claimed that Tarek had been under the control of British forces, and that his dead body was subsequently found bearing marks of torture and execution. In essence, the case raised issues concerning the acts of British armed forces in Iraq, extra-territorial jurisdiction and the application of the European Convention of Human Rights in the context of an international armed conflict. This was the first case in which a contracting State had requested the Court to disapply its obligations under Article 5 or in some other way to interpret them in the light of powers of detention available to it under international humanitarian law, which allows the internment of prisoners of war at times of international conflict.
The Grand Chamber held that although Tarek Hassan had been within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom between the time of his arrest by British troops until the moment of his release; there had been no violation of Article 5(1), (2), (3) or (4) (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights as concerned his actual capture and detention. The European Convention had to be interpreted in parallel with international instruments which applied in time of war. Four out of the seventeen judges dissented on this point. Continue reading →
Ashworth and others v the Royal National Theatre  1176 – read judgment
Anyone who saw one of the early performances of War Horse in its first season at the National Theatre will remember how profoundly moving was the live music, with the musicians visible along the sides of the theatre above the stage. Since that highly successful (and profitable) first season the role of the orchestra had been radically reduced, and now looks as if it is about to vanish altogether.
War Horse opened at the Olivier Theatre in 2007, but since 2009 it has played at the New London Theatre. The claimants were engaged in March 2009 to play their instruments in the new production, as a small company of wind players accompanying recorded music. Productions of War Horse in other parts of the world have relied wholly on recorded music. In light of that, and because both the co-director of War Horse and the composer concluded that it was better for accuracy and impact to deliver the score through recorded music. The National Theatre sent the claimants letters giving notice of termination of their contracts to expire on 15 March 2014. In the letters the National Theatre stated that the grounds were redundancy.
The claimants sought an order from the court, prior to the trial of the main action, to require the National Theatre to continue to engage them in the production of War Horse until the trial of their claim. They also relied upon the right to artistic expression protected by Article 10 of the human rights Convention. Continue reading →
Smith and Others (Appellants) v The Ministry of Defence (Respondent) and other appeals – read judgment and our previous post for summary of the facts
So, the Supreme Court has refused to allow these claims to be struck out on the principle of combat immunity. It has also asserted that jurisdiction for the purpose of an Article 2 right to life claim can extend to non-Convention countries, and that the state can owe a positive duty to protect life, even in a situation of armed combat.
This ruling deserves close attention not least because it takes common law negligence and Article 2 into an area which is very largely uncharted by previous authority. Lord Mance does not mince his words in his dissent, predicting that yesterday’s ruling will lead, inevitably, to the “judicialisation of war”. Lord Carnwath is similarly minded; in this case, he says, the Court is being asked to authorise an extension of the law of negligence (as indeed of Article 2), into a new field, without guidance from “any authority in the higher courts, in this country or any comparable jurisdiction, in which the state has been held liable for injuries sustained by its own soldiers in the course of active hostilities.” Lord Wilson also dissented on this point. Continue reading →
Mousa & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Defence  EWHC 1412 (Admin) (24 May 2013) – Read judgment
Remember the Iraq War? Following the 2003 invasion Britain remained in control of Basra, a city in South Eastern Iraq, until withdrawal over six years later on 30 April 2009. 179 British troops died during that period. But despite there over four years having passed since withdrawal, the fallout from the war and occupation is still being resolved by the UK Government and courts.
Thousands of Iraqis died in the hostilities or were detained by the British. Thanks to two decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2011 (Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda – our coverage here), the state’s duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate deaths and extreme mistreatment applied in Iraq at that time. It is fascinating to see how the UK authorities have been unravelling the extent of that duty. The Baha Mousa Public Inquiry has reported and the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry is ongoing (I acted in the former and still do in the latter). In this major judgment, which may yet be appealed, the High Court has ruled the manner in which the UK Government is investigating deaths and perhaps mistreatment is insufficient to satisfy its investigative duty.
R (Khan) v Secretary Of State For Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs  EWHC 3728 (Admin) (21 December 2012) – Read judgment
In this unsuccessful application for permission to apply for judicial review, the Claimant sought to challenge the Defendant’s reported policy of permitting GCHQ employees to pass intelligence to the US for the purposes of drone strikes in Pakistan. The Claimant’s father was killed during such an attack in March 2011.
The Claimant alleged that by assisting US agents with drone strikes, GCHQ employees were at risk of becoming secondary parties to murder under the criminal law of England and Wales and of conduct ancillary to war crimes or crimes against humanity contrary to international law. The Claimant sought declaratory relief to that effect and also sought a declaration that the Defendant should publish a policy addressing the circumstances in which such intelligence could be lawfully disseminated. [paragraph 6]
Smith & Ors v The Ministry of Defence  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’).
The recent standoff between two leading judicial lights, Jonathan Sumption and Stephen Sedley, may make for entertaining reading, but don’t be fooled.
Like the heated question of whether a non-entrenchment clause could be dug into our law to protect UK parliamentary sovereignty, this one wasn’t about law, or even constitutional theory; it was essentially about differing ideological positions vis a vis judicial power.
Joshua Rozenberg welcomes Sumption’s latest speech as indicative of his supportive stance on judicial activism, particularly in the foreign policy sphere. I don’t agree. In his FA Mann Lecture last November Sumption pinned his colours to the mast on judicial activism in general, and this latest fascinating survey of foreign policy case law illustrating the retreat of judicial deference must be read in that light. Continue reading →
R (on the application of Maria Gallastegui) v Westminster City Council  EWHC 1123 (Admin) – Read judgment
On 27 April 2012, Maria Gallastegui, a peace campaigner and resident of the East pavement of Parliament Square since 2006, lost her legal battle to continue her 24 hour, tented vigil in protest against the folly of war and in particular the UK’s involvement in armed conflict.
The Court’s main task was to construe a new law enacted to bolster the legal armoury available to control long-term protests in the Square. Section 143 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 – which came into force on 19 December 2011 – gives a local authority the power to stop “prescribed activities” such as using tents (and other structures) to sleep. They are also empowered to seize items used for these prescribed purposes ie the tents.
It is clear from the many tributes to her that Ms Colvin was an extraordinary person: a woman of verve, replete with humanity, she was fearless in the face of carefully assessed and weighed risk. In 2001 after losing an eye in a grenade attack by a Sri Lankan government soldier whilst reporting on the Tamil Tigers, she wrote:
The recent European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Al-Skeini will certainly enter the Court’s hall of fame as a landmark judgment for pushing the boundaries of the European Convention on Human Rights’s jurisdiction. While it may take us some time to appreciate the full implications of this judgment, one of its possible consequences is the potential opening of the Court’s doors to claims arising from international armed conflicts.
by Melinda Padron
In Al-Skeini, the ECtHR determined that there may be instances when the European Convention on Human Rights may apply outside the ‘espace juridique’, that is the Convention’s ‘legal space’, or within the territories of the Convention’s member states (see Alasdair Henderson’s post on the ruling, which concerned Article 1 of the Convention). This may occur when agents of a member state are exercising authority and control over individuals (personal rather than strictly territorial control) within a given territory upon which that same member state is exercising some public powers. Accordingly, in the case of Al-Skeini, the Convention was found to be applicable to actions taken by British troops in Basra (Iraq), where the UK assumed the exercise of some of the public powers normally exercised by a sovereign government (see paras. 149-150 of the judgment).
Even if technically obiter, it is suggested that the reasoned decision of the majority of the Supreme Court in Smith is likely to be regarded as binding in practice, if not in strict theory.
This is a postscript to Adam Wagner’s post this morning on the UKSC decision in R (Smith) v. MOD (see our post summarising the decision or read the judgment), commenting on the debate as to the authority of the judgment of the majority on the jurisdictional issue.
It may be worth bearing in mind the weight likely to be accorded by any lower court to the views of the majority of a 9 judge constitution of the Supreme Court. Even if not technically binding, it is hard to imagine any judge at first instance, or even the Court of Appeal, having the courage to depart from the reasoned views of the majority on this point, unless arising in some unforeseen or unusual factual context.
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