[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December, 2004, 15:44 GMT
Iraqis win death probe test case
Baha Mousa
Baha Mousa died in custody after being arrested in Basra
The family of an Iraqi civilian allegedly killed by UK troops has won a challenge against the government's refusal to order a full inquiry.

The High Court ruled on Tuesday that Baha Mousa's death in British custody in Iraq fell within the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

And the judges paved the way for an independent inquiry by saying previous investigations were inadequate.

But judicial reviews into five other deaths in southern Iraq were ruled out.

The families in those cases will be appealing against the judgement.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is considering whether to appeal, saying the judgement has "wider implications for current and future operations".

September 2003: Baha Mousa, 28, dies in custody
August 2003: Hazim al-Skeini, 23, allegedly shot while unarmed
24 August 2003: Waleed Muzban shot while driving home
27 August 2003: Policeman Raid al Musawi shot while delivering petitions
November 2003: Muhammad Salim, 45, allegedly shot during a raid on his home
10 November 2003: Hanan Schmailawi hit by machine gun fire while eating with her family
Father-of-two Mr Mousa, 28, a hotel receptionist, was arrested with eight men at a hotel in Basra, southern Iraq, in September 2003 and was allegedly beaten to death while in custody.

The Iraqi families' lawyer argued that failing to adequately investigate the six deaths breached the ECHR.

But MoD lawyers argued the area was outside European jurisdiction.

On Tuesday Lord Justice Rix and Mr Justice Forbes ruled that UK jurisdiction could extend to a UK-run prison, but did not apply "to the total territory of another state".

They said as Mr Mousa was in custody when he died, his case was covered by the ECHR, but the other five Iraqis' cases failed as they were at home, walking in the street or driving when they died.

It is not enough for the military to investigate behind closed doors
Carla Ferstman
The judges added it was difficult to say that the investigation which had already occurred "has been timely, open or effective".

After the ruling Carla Ferstman, legal director of the human rights organisation Redress, said: "It is not enough for the military to investigate behind closed doors.

"There must be an effective public investigation by an independent official body."

The families' solicitor Phil Shiner described it as an "historic day for human rights" and said they would argue on appeal that other civilian deaths should be investigated independently.

Families solicitor Phil Shiner and his researcher Mazin Younis outside the Royal Courts of Justice
Mr Shiner (left) said it was an 'historic day for human rights'
Other allegations involving British soldiers included the shooting of an Iraqi police commissioner and the shooting of four Iraqi civilians in May 2003.

In a statement, the MoD said it was pleased five of the cases were turned down and welcomed the decision that the ECHR should be applied outside the UK only in "exceptional and limited" circumstances.

"In Iraq, where UK armed forces are regularly fired upon and regularly return fire in self-defence, it is not possible for us to adopt procedures such as the immediate establishment of a police cordon to enable the painstaking collection of forensic evidence," it said.

It would not comment on the case of Mr Mousa for legal reasons, because it is under investigation by the Army Prosecution Authority.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell described the ruling as a "sharp reminder" to the government of its obligations.

It must be emphasised that the High Court finding carries no implication of guilt or wrong-doing by British soldiers
Clare Dodgson
Legal Services Commission
But former British Commander Colonel Bob Stewart told BBC News top military officers would be saddened by the verdict, but would welcome the chance to "have it out".

"We don't want people thinking that British soldiers beat up civilians and get away with it," he said.

"The Ministry of Defence does everything in its power to try to prove we act ethically and properly under the rules of war."

Clare Dodgson, chief executive of the Legal Services Commission, said the aim of the case was to clarify the legal rights of civilians in post-war zones under British control.

"It must be emphasised that the High Court finding carries no implication of guilt or wrong-doing by British soldiers," she said.

Instead, it "allows for allegations surrounding deaths in custody to be fairly and independently investigated", she added.

The families' lawyer gives his verdict on the ruling

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific