BBC OnePanorama


Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 11:34 GMT
Panorama's legal victory
British troops in Basra Province
British troops are alleged to have tortured Iraqis after an ambush
Panorama has won an important victory in the High Court against the Ministry of Defence which was attempting to prevent the broadcast of details of alleged abuse by soldiers in Iraq.

Panorama intends to broadcast the allegations in a programme as a follow up to Paul Kenyon's A Good Kicking last March.

This time they relate to events in May 2004 in Southern Iraq that are now the subject of civil action by British solicitors. The case involves allegations of torture, abuse, mutilation and execution of Iraqi prisoners by British Army servicemen.

Gagging order

During the hearing, Lord Justice Moses said it was "barmy" that it had taken so long for the military authorities to investigate what had happened at Majar.

Until it was lifted, the gagging order prevented Panorama and other media from reporting any of the allegations made by the Iraqi families and those who say they were survivors of the abuse.

The order would also have prevented reporting of a pending High Court hearing in any meaningful way.

It blocked the naming of any of the Iraqi claimants, or the telling of their stories, until a final decision was taken on whether there would be criminal prosecutions against any soldiers.

Public domain

Lord Justice Moses - also sitting with Mr Justice Silber - overturned the ban "in its entirety".

He ruled there was "ample material" to support the proposition that the proceedings to be brought in the High Court should be "in the public domain", and ample authority "for the good reasons why that should be so".

The MoD had wanted to keep secret the names of the army regiments allegedly involved.

But Lord Justice Moses ruled there was no basis for keeping secret the names of those who were subject to investigation.

The possibility of there being any prosecution was "far too remote", said the judge, and there was certainly no statutory prohibition on the publication of names.

Jonathan Swift, appearing for the MoD, said fresh investigations had become necessary as a result of the witness statements made by the Iraqi claimants in the pending High Court hearing.

He said he was only seeking to uphold the gagging order in so far as it prohibited the naming of the regiments involved.

The judge said: "It is not the way it works. If you are right then it is one rule for the MoD and another rule for the ordinary citizen."

Panorama's action was supported by The Times and The Guardian.

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