Civil Rights lawyers closed down by Tories

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THE law firm that has spent ten years representing the Iraqi victims of the brutal imperialist invasion of their country and the subsequent occupation by US and British troops has been forced to close by the Tory government.

Yesterday the civil rights firm Public Interest Lawyers announced that it was closing down at the end of August due to the government cutting off all its legal aid funding. Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) have tenaciously taken on the British state, fighting for the rights of Iraqis over claims that they were subjected to torture, mistreatment and, in some cases, murdered by UK troops.

PIL have submitted numerous allegations of ‘misconduct’ by British troops during the illegal occupation of Iraq, including representing them during the Al-Sweady inquiry into abuse. The announcement that they have been forced out of business means that all the ongoing cases brought by Iraqis will now be dropped, saving the army and state from any further legal action over accusations of torture and war crimes, including 200 compensation claims.

Hailing it a victory for its witch-hunting campaign against the law firm, the Daily Mail called it a ‘victory’ and a ‘defeat of Iraq War vultures’ while Tory defence secretary Michael Fallon crowed that the firm’s closure was the ‘right outcome for our armed forces’.

Fallon went on: ‘For too long we’ve seen our legal system abused to impugn them (the army) falsely. We are now seeing progress and we will be announcing further measures to stamp out this practice.’

The fact of the matter is that PIL and other civil rights lawyers have succeeded in bringing to light through the courts many atrocities committed by the forces of the British capitalist state. PIL have won high court compensation payouts from the Ministry of Defence over cases of ‘ill-treatment’ totalling £21.77 million with 1,150 cases of alleged criminality by British troops being handed over. These will now be dropped.

Another leading firm of civil rights lawyers, Leigh Day, is facing a similar witch hunt over its representation of Iraqis in the Al-Sweady inquiry into the unlawful killing of Iraqi prisoners in 2004. A high court hearing of this case, where Al-Sweady was represented by Leigh Day, was harsh in its criticism, not of Leigh Day or PIL, but of the Ministry of Defence, with the judge saying that the MoD’s disclosure of documents was ‘lamentable’.

So severe was this criticism, with the strong implications of a cover-up of atrocities and war crimes, that the then defence secretary was forced to order a public inquiry in 2010. This inquiry completely exonerated army personnel, dismissing Iraqi testimonials as lies, although even this inquiry was forced to conclude that army personnel had broken the Geneva Convention on the treatment of detainees.

Leigh Day is now under investigation by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, the same tribunal that PIL was to face before its forced closure, with the very real prospect of being barred from the legal profession for the crime of representing Iraqis against the British state.

What these two cases of civil rights lawyers who dared to take on the British state highlight, is the determination by the Tories to stamp out any legal interference in the right of the armed forces of the state to break every law in the book with impunity.

The Tories are determined to extend this immunity from prosecution to every state agency, already there are clamours for the police to receive legal protection from any action arising out of the ‘shoot to kill’ policy brought in under the guise of a war against terror.

The ruling class is preparing its army and police for the real job of keeping down a working class and youth that are boiling over in anger at all the austerity that is crushing them.

This threat must be met by the even stronger army of the working class being mobilised in a general strike to kick out the Tories and bring in a workers government which will smash this weak, bankrupt capitalist state and its armed forces and replace them with a workers state and socialism.