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UK Supreme Court allows families of Iraq soldiers to sue government

The UK Supreme Court [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Wednesday that the families of some British soldiers who were killed or injured in Iraq can sue the British government for damages. In its ruling, the Supreme Court stated that families claiming that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) [official website] did not fulfill its duty of adequately protecting a family member by providing appropriate weaponry or armored vehicles could launch damages claims [AP report] under theories of negligence and human rights. The Supreme Court added, however, that certain things will still not be challengeable [BBC report] under human rights law, such as decisions made in the heat of battle. The families of these soldiers are now able to bring these claims against the MOD and may proceed to trial.

This ongoing case arose from the 2003 death of Territorial Army [official website] Private Jason Smith in Basra. The Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire Andrew Walker [BBC profile] found that Smith's death was the result of "a serious failure to recognize and take appropriate steps to address the difficulty that he had in adjusting to the climate." Walker prompted Smith's family to file suit against the MOD. The High Court [official website] subsequently ruled in 2008 [JURIST report] that British service members are entitled to legal protection of their human rights "wherever they may be." This ruling came despite arguments by the MOD that the Human Rights Act 1998 [text] does not apply to soldiers on active service abroad outside bases under British military jurisdiction. In May 2009 the England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) [official website] upheld the High Court's ruling [JURIST report], finding that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) [text] applies to UK troops serving abroad. The court found that the UK's obligation under the Human Rights Act extends in some cases beyond territorial jurisdiction, including foreign service by military personnel.

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