Page last updated at 18:18 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

Iraqis appeal over murders trial

Sapper Luke Allsopp and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth
The soldiers died after being ambushed in southern Iraq

A court injunction has been extended preventing two Iraqis accused of killing two British soldiers from being handed to Iraqi authorities for trial.

Last week, the High Court ruled it was lawful for Faisal Al-Saadoon and Khalaf Mufdhi to be tried by an Iraqi court despite the risk of the death penalty.

But the court gave them time to appeal and a full appeal hearing will now be held in London on 29 and 30 December.

The Court of Appeal has ordered the men to stay in British hands until then.

The two men are accused of murdering Staff Sgt Simon Cullingworth and Sapper Luke Allsopp during the Iraq war in March 2003.

Their lawyers have argued allowing them to stand trial in Iraq would violate both the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1998 Human Rights Act.

Innocence protested

Daniel Carey, a solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers, said by listing this matter for a full appeal hearing at such short notice, the Court of Appeal "has recognised the importance of ensuring British compliance with domestic and international law".

"These are the most anxious of circumstances, as the Divisional Court has already recognised a real risk of the death penalty for our clients, should they be transferred to Iraqi custody.

"In our view, the protection of persons detained and held by the British government from the death penalty should override any issues of political expediency as the expiry of the UN mandate nears.

"Let us not forget that no criminal trial of these men has yet taken place, and their innocence is protested."

Last Friday, Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Silber ruled the government can lawfully hand the suspects over to the Iraqi Higher Tribunal for trial, despite the risk they could face the death penalty.

'High-level assurances'

Lord Justice Richards said the court had found it would be "wholly inappropriate" to stop Defence Secretary John Hutton handing the men over as it would "involve a breach of UK international obligations and an interference with the sovereignty of Iraq".

But he said the decision was made "notwithstanding that on our view they could face the real risk of the death sentence if convicted".

"We are seriously troubled by that conclusion. We regard the issues in the case as difficult and important."

The Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Justice say they have been given assurances at the "highest level" that both men will receive a fair trial and treatment, whatever the outcome of the case.

The soldiers, both members of 33 Engineer Regiment, were travelling as part of a convoy which was ambushed by militiamen on the outskirts of the town of Al Zubayr in southern Iraq.

While half the convoy escaped, Staff Sgt Cullingworth, who was married with two sons, and Sapper Allsopp were taken to a local Baath party headquarters and then to an Iraqi intelligence base, where they were shot dead.

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