THE families of Iraqi civilians killed and tortured by British troops, yesterday won their legal battle for public hearings.
Their lawyers, Public Interest Lawyers, announced yesterday morning: ‘The High Court (Sir John Thomas, President, Queen’s Bench Division and Mister Justice Silber) has today handed down a judgment dealing with the future public hearings in nearly two hundred unlawful killings of Iraqi civilian cases and up to eight hundred cases of torture and cruel inhuman degrading treatment (CIDT) of Iraqi civilians.
‘There will now be a public process leading to hundreds of public hearings in what will be to all intents inquests in each individual case and a public examination of all systemic issues arising from these cases.’
Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers said outside the High Court: ‘The court has found that the Secretary of State for Defence acted unlawfully, that the Ministry of Defence have not complied with international and domestic law requiring there to be proper public scrutiny of these cases and the systemic issues arising from them.
‘My clients welcome the public inquisitorial process that will now follow.
‘I trust that the various and troubling systemic issues emerging from these cases will lead to further reforms following the Baha Mousa Inquiry report of September 2011.
‘The Secretary of State must ensure that UK Forces abroad respect and apply the rule of law.
‘The families of those killed and tortured will get a public hearing and senior civil servants, the military and senior politicians will be held accountable.’
Shiner said that the court also ruled that prosecutions should be considered in a number of the deaths and a number of the torture cases and decisions be made within six weeks.
He concluded: ‘I must say, we couldn’t have carried out this case without legal aid, which they are trying to stop and that is disgraceful.’
PIL noted: ‘In March 2010 the Secretary of State for Defence (SSD) established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to deal with all killings and torture cases involving UK personnel in Iraq.
‘In November 2011 the Iraqi claimants represented by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) succeeded in the Court of Appeal in establishing that IHAT was not independent as many of their staff were Royal Military Police (RMP) and the RMP were intrinsically bound up with the cases IHAT was tasked to investigate.
‘In March 2012 the SSD responded to the Court of Appeal judgment by replacing the RMP staff with civilian contractors and five Royal Naval Police personnel.’
The High Court ruled yesterday that all death cases should now be subject to a public ‘inquisitorial process’ and that ‘the establishment of IHAT and the arrangements associated with it are not sufficient to discharge the duty imposed on the state’ (para 179).