Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Saturday, 12 April 2008 11:39 UK

Troops have some rights - Browne

Defence Secretary Des Browne

Human rights laws do apply "to some degree" to British soldiers in combat, Defence Secretary Des Browne has said.

His comments come after a ruling by the High Court that means sending troops into action without proper kit could breach their human rights.

Government lawyers had argued it was impossible to give soldiers in combat the benefits of the Human Rights Act.

Mr Browne told the BBC the government would appeal against the ruling to seek clarification on its position.

The landmark judgement came in a test case relating to the death of Scottish soldier Pte Jason Smith in Iraq.


Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Browne said there had been a number of judgements made recently which were "inconsistent" with Friday's ruling by Mr Justice Collins.

"We have for example a judgement made earlier this week from the House of Lords which raised some of these issues about the Human Rights Act and its applicability - which we believe is partially inconsistent with Mr Justice Collins' decision," he said.

Asked whether soldiers should enjoy any human rights, Mr Browne said: "The Human Rights Act applies to some degree in those circumstances, and we have some cases that set out the degree to which they apply."

He was then asked why the government was to appeal, if he accepted the High Court's ruling that human rights laws can be applied to British troops even in combat.

Mr Browne said the law needed "clarification".

He said the judge had granted the government leave to appeal because he understood that if it was to send young people into operational environments then "we have to have clarity and stability about the legal circumstances in which they go".

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the government did not believe the latest judgement reflected some of the legal precedents and was seeking clarification.

"In the vast majority of cases, when troops are in combat, you can't offer them the same rights as a civilian," he added.

Compensation claims

During the ruling, Mr Justice Collins said that although a duty of care could not be expected in combat, troops did not lose all protection.

For example, he said, sending a soldier out on patrol with defective equipment might be a breach of Article 2 of the Human Rights Act - the right to life, which in the event of death requires an independent inquiry.

The court also ruled families of those killed in conflict should get legal aid and access to military documents.

The judgement came during a request for military inquest guidelines in the case of Pte Smith, 32, from Hawick, in the Scottish Borders, who died of heatstroke in Iraq in 2003.

Many believe the judgement will make it easier for the families of those injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to claim for compensation.

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