Families of Iraqis killed by British soldiers during the war may be able to sue the taxpayer after a landmark ruling in the High Court. Around 1,200 families are affected by the decision, which puts the wounding or killing under the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Daily Mail reports the case was brought by Phil Shiner’s company, Public Interest Lawyers, which has represented a variety of high profile and controversial clients. The Ministry of Defence pledged to appeal the decision and said it was “concerned” the High Court had taken “an expansive view of the ECHR jurisdiction”.
Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, claimed the judgment was “absurd”. He said: “The prospect that every time British troops shoot or shell an enemy in battle they can be put before a court is beyond parody and utterly preposterous.
“How on earth are our troops expected to attack the enemy or to defend themselves knowing that every shot they fire could land them in court.
“There are two winners in this judgment – our country’s enemies and the ambulance-chasing lawyers who will now be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of pocketing even more millions of pounds of taxpayer’s hard-earned cash.”
He added: “I believe that these very lawyers have serious questions to answer about the abuse of the UK’s willingness to investigate such claims for personal gain and to that effect their credibility and motivation must be questioned.”
Mr Justice Leggatt cited two reasons for invoking the ECHR. He said: “Such shootings occurred in the course of security operations in which British forces were exercising public powers that would normally be exercised by the government of Iraq… shooting someone involves the exercise of physical power over that person.”
If all of the families successfully sue the MOD it could lead the taxpayer to be out of pocket to the tune of millions of pounds. The ruling also makes it harder for the British military to operate in conflict situations, potentially risking national defence.