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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Court challenge over Iraqi deaths
Iraqi prisoners of war
Lawyers want an independent inquiry into the Iraqis' deaths
Lawyers for 12 Iraqi families who claim relatives were killed by British troops in Iraq have lodged papers at the High Court in a battle for compensation.

The lawyers want an independent inquiry to make the Ministry of Defence accept legal responsibility for the deaths.

They have lodged papers at London's Royal Courts of Justice - the first step in seeking a judicial review.

The test cases will decide whether the UK armed forces in occupation are subject to the Human Rights Act 1998.

After lodging the papers, solicitor Phil Shiner said he expected there would eventually be a total of 17 Iraqi families seeking damages under human rights legislation.

Mr Shiner said: "We are challenging the Government's refusal, communicated by their letter of 29 March, to give us an independent inquiry and to pay damages to the families."

Injunction

The solicitor alleged there was evidence from Iraq that vital evidence was being removed.

He said: "If the government won't give a court undertaking that they will act as if they did have to hold an inquiry and therefore protect the evidence until the court hearing of this case, then we are going to apply for an injunction."

Because the conflict had come to an end the legal situation is transformed
Solicitor Phil Shiner

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is expected to argue that, because Iraq is not a European state, the human rights convention does not apply to British soldiers in Iraq.

Troops are, however, bound by the Geneva convention covering the treatment of prisoners.

Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers, representing the families, want an independent inquiry into the circumstances of the deaths to establish their cause.

They believe this could lead to an examination of the extent and preparedness of the occupation - and so of the Iraq war itself.

Phil Shiner, who is one of the lawyers in the group, earlier told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the 12 cases included those of a man allegedly killed when British soldiers burst into his house before dawn and of a farmer shot while fixing a water pump.

Officer's 'regret'

BBC defence correspondent Paul Adams said in another case it was claimed a 17-year-old drowned when British soldiers beat him up and then ordered him to swim across a river.

In some of the cases, witness statements are accompanied by letters of apology from the British military.

In one, a senior officer expresses regret and offers donations to the families.

Mr Shiner outlined his case: "Normally the Human Rights Act applies to the territory of the member state but there are exceptions.

'Occupying power'

"One is where the state has effective control of another territory," he said.

"We are an occupying power in Iraq, we exercise the functions of the local state, policy judiciary. We are in effective control therefore we say there's jurisdiction.

"Because the conflict had come to an end the legal situation is transformed.

"In a way these deaths may have occurred in Birmingham as they did in Basra."

Liability denied

The court will also be asked to make a declaration that the cases in question involve unlawful killings.

This could result in damages awards for the families.

The MoD has confirmed it responded to a letter from the lawyers but says it does not accept liability for the deaths.

It says it has written to the lawyers with its reasons.

The ministry is at present refusing to pay compensation, instead making small "charitable donations".


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Adams
"Human Rights lawyers believe the cases of abuse already investigated are only part of the picture"



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