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Last Updated: Friday, 20 May, 2005, 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK
Lawyers reject Iraq inquiry call
Relatives of servicemen killed in Iraq hand in a letter at Downing Street
Tony Blair has rejected calls for a public inquiry into the Iraq war
Calls made by bereaved families of servicemen for a public inquiry into the legality of the Iraq war have been rejected by government lawyers.

Relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq took a letter to Downing Street earlier this month demanding the inquiry.

Treasury Solicitors said the families' case was "fundamentally flawed". Tony Blair had already rejected the call.

Andrew Burgin a spokesman for the families, said they would now seek a judicial review of the refusal.

'No bearing'

The government solicitors rejected the families' argument that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) obliged Mr Blair to set up an independent public inquiry.

The government believes that military action in Iraq was fully justified
Treasury Solicitors

In a statement they said: "Those servicemen regrettably lost their lives due to a variety of circumstances ... ranging from a road traffic accident in Kuwait and a US helicopter crash to a gun attack and improvised explosive device attack.

"The legality of the decision to take military action in Iraq has no bearing on the circumstances which led to their deaths."

The families have condemned the solicitors' argument that the military action "was in no sense the immediate and direct operative cause" of the deaths.

We have been told that we have a better than 50-50 chance of succeeding in our application for judicial review
Andrew Burgin
Families' spokesman

Ann Lawrence, whose son Marc was killed when two helicopters crashed at sea said her son and Tom Keys, who was killed near Basra in June 2003, "wouldn't have been within a million miles of Iraq had Mr Blair not sent them there".

"They had a Queen's Commission and were duty bound to take orders, " she said.

The letter sent to the families' lawyers also defended the war in Iraq.

"The government believes that military action in Iraq was fully justified," it said.

'Deep regret'

The prime minister had earlier ruled out holding a public inquiry, saying in an Channel 4 News interview: "We've had inquiry after inquiry, we do not need to go back over this again and again."

The letter from the government's solicitors added the legal arguments it gave "in no way diminish the deep regret" felt by the prime minister and government at the deaths of members of the Armed Forces in Iraq.

Mr Burgin said the families would be liaising with their legal team about taking further action.

"We have been told that we have a better than 50-50 chance of succeeding in our application for judicial review," he said.

Five reasons

Explaining their decision, the Treasury Solicitors argued there were at least five main reasons why the families' argument was misconceived. They were:

  • That the European Court of Human Rights has previously made clear that decisions on military action abroad are not subject to review under the ECHR.

  • That none of the deaths occurred within the jurisdiction of the UK as defined by Article 1 of the ECHR.

  • That the decision to take military action in Iraq was "in no sense the immediate and direct operative cause of the deaths of the proposed claimants' relatives".

  • That there was no "specific and individualised risk of harm" to those who died, as distinct from any other member of the armed forces. Sending armed servicemen to Iraq as part of an organised military force capable of defending itself is not comparable to sending a helpless victim overseas to face torture or death, they said.

    The Treasury Solicitors also argue that the question of the legality of the military action taken in Iraq is irrelevant to whether there has been any breach of Article 2 of the ECHR.

  • That in an action before the domestic courts, the claimants would have to invoke the Human Rights Act. The Treasury Solicitors argue that that Act does not apply "in any relevant sense to any territory outside the United Kingdom".

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