The Guardian on Saturday, in an article by Ian Cobain, covered the judgment delivered on Friday by the High Court in a case brought by lawyers acting for Iraqi families alleging abuse and mistreatment by British forces in Iraq between 2003-2009.
Cobain, author of a recent book on Britain's 'Secret History of Torture', writes:
"In a ground-breaking judgment that could have an impact on how the British military is able to conduct operations among civilians in the future, the court ruled on Friday that up to 161 deaths should be the subject of hearings modelled upon coroners' inquests.
"In practice, a series of hearings – possibly amounting to more than 100 – are likely to be held as a result of the judgment, which follows a three-year legal battle on behalf of the Iraqis' families."
Cobain also notes the High Court's decision "order[ing] Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, to announce within six weeks whether any of the deaths are to result in prosecutions, or to explain any further delays over prosecuting decisions."
The High Court ruled against a single public inquiry into all cases of alleged abuses noting the heavy cost of inquiries held to date, including the 2011 inquiry into the killing of Iraqi citizen, Baha Mousa. The judgement noted, "The only public inquiry that has been completed, Baha Mousa, has cost £25m and the second, Al Sweady, has cost more than £17m so far. The other investigations established by the Secretary of State are costing about £7.5m a year."
The judgment refers to the UK's obligations to investigate claims brought under Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protect "the right to life" and the right to protection against "torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Despite rejecting a public inquiry into allegations brought by the victims' families, the High Court ruled a series of inquests should be held conducted as a "full, fair and fearless investigation accessible to the victim's families and to the public".
The High Court judgment notes:
"On the basis of the Strasbourg Court's decisions there were thought at the turn of the year to be about 40 cases where it is accepted the investigative duty into deaths under Article 2 and 135 cases where the duty under Article 3 arises. These figures are now much greater. We were told that there might be as many as 150-160 cases involving death and 700-800 cases involving mistreatment in breach of Article 3, though the precise numbers that require investigation will be determined by decisions as to the scope of the application of the Convention to the activities undertaken by the British armed forces in Iraq."
The court heard evidence from Louise Thomas, who has spoken previously of her frustrations with the operation of Ihat claiming the tribunal set up to investigate claims of abuse committed by British soldiers in Iraq was a 'whitewash'.
The High Court ruling rejected the application on the independence of the Iraq Historical Allegations Team (Ihat) stating, "We have reached the conclusion on the evidence we have heard ... that IHAT is independent and objectively can be seen as independent."
Phil Shiner, a lawyer for the Iraqis, told The Guardian: "My clients welcome, at last, the opportunities for accountability flowing from the judgment.
"I trust that the various and troubling systemic issues emerging from these cases will lead to further reforms following the Baha Mousa inquiry report of September 2011. The secretary of state must ensure that UK forces abroad respect and apply the rule of law."