Victory for Leigh Day as court rules British soldiers breached Geneva conventions
British soldiers breached the Geneva conventions by inflicting “inhuman and degrading treatment” on Iraqi civilians, a judge ruled yesterday as he awarded nearly £85,000 in compensation to four victims.
The victory in a test case at the High Court in London could result in the Ministry of Defence having to settle with another 628 claimants in cases that could cost the government more than £1 million.
In the landmark ruling, Mr Justice Leggatt found that army chiefs implemented a flawed and unlawful approach to the detention of civilians during the Iraq war, breaching not only domestic human rights law but also the internationally accepted Geneva conventions.
The court found that the British armed forces subjected Iraqi civilians to treatment that included soldiers taking turns to run over the backs of detained civilians and hooding them for extended periods.
It was the first time that Iraqi civilians had given evidence in an English courtroom.
The ruling could prove to be controversial because the London law firm acting for the four Iraqi civilians had faced charges of professional misconduct this year for its handling of claims going before the £31 million al-Sweady inquiry.
Leigh Day and three of its lawyers were accused of professional misconduct after alleging that British soldiers had murdered and mistreated innocent Iraqi civilians after the Battle of Danny Boy in 2004.
Those allegations were found to be without merit, but after the longest and most expensive professional disciplinary hearing in English legal history, Leigh Day was cleared of professional misconduct. The professional regulator has indicated that it will appeal the ruling.
In yesterday’s High Court ruling, Mr Justice Leggatt said that “none of the claimants was engaged in terrorist activities or posed any threat to the security of Iraq”.
Account needs to be taken of the acute stress and constant danger under which soldiers are operating in combat conditions
The judge said it was accepted that “account needs to be taken of the acute stress and constant danger under which soldiers are operating in combat conditions”, but added: “That context cannot excuse cruelty or brutality.”
Sapna Malik, a Leigh Day partner, said: “Our clients are grateful that the judge approached their claims without any preconception or presumption that allegations of misconduct by British soldiers are inherently unlikely to be true.
“Our clients’ evidence has been tested at length in court and the Ministry of Defence has been found wanting.”
Malik said it was “vital that those wronged by the UK government, whether in this country or overseas, are able to seek justice and redress. Their ability to do so in our courts is not a witch hunt but a testament to the strength of our democracy”.
The Ministry of Defence has yet to decide on whether it will appeal the ruling.
A spokesman said that British “military personnel served with great courage in Iraq, often working under extremely difficult circumstances. We note the court’s ruling that these four detainees were not treated as they should have been, and are studying the judgment.”
He added that the High Court case established civil liability for unlawful detention and ill-treatment of four claimants and that “just because the court has determined in a civil case that ill-treatment did occur, and that the MoD is therefore liable to pay compensation, that does not necessarily mean that there is sufficient evidence to charge any individual with an offence”.
Criminal allegations from the four claimants have been considered by the Service Police Legacy Investigations, “but no service personnel or veterans have been interviewed or charged in relation to these incidents”, he said.