British troops have breached the Geneva conventions and subjected Iraqi civilians to cruel and inhuman treatment by hooding them, the High court ruled yesterday.
Mr Justice Leggatt ruled that British soldiers took turns in running over the backs of detained civilians and hooding them for long periods of time.
The judgement came as a result of two High Court civil trials in which four Iraqi civilians claimed they had been subjected to unlawful detention and abuse by British forces.
- Geneva conventions apply in times of armed conflict whilst the Human Rights Act 1998 is based on prisoner treatment after an invasion.
Mr Justice Leggatt continued to say: "None of the claimants were engaged in terrorist activity or posed any threat to the security of Iraq."
The court found that two claimants had been detained at sea and subjected to forced nudity and sexual humiliation. One of the claimants was burned on the buttock with a cigarette. The men were subjected to sleep deprivation and periods of complete deprivation of sight and hearing whilst in British custody.
The four men were awarded £84,000 in compensation.
The MoD has already settled 331 claims out of court, paying out £22 million by the end of 2016.
Sapna Malik, a partner in the international claims team at Leigh Day which represented two of the claimants said: "Our clients' evidence has been tested at length in court and the Ministry of Defence has been found wanting."
It is vital that those wronged by the UK Government, whether in this country or overseas, are able to seek justice and redress. Their ability to do so in our courts is not a witch hunt but a testament to the strength of our democracy.
The judgement comes ten days after the International Criminal Court (ICC) declared that there was "reasonable basis" to conclude that British troops committed war crimes against Iraqi detainees.
A MoD spokesperson said: "Our military personnel served with great courage in Iraq, often working under extremely difficult circumstances. We note the court's ruling that these four detainees were not treated as they should have been, and are studying the judgement."
The lead cases will now allow some 628 other claimants to have their cases reviewed by Leigh Day and the MoD.
"This judgment shows just how important it is that the actions of the government and the military are open to proper scrutiny. These cases have been politicised by the government and the media, with the victims and their legal teams subject to unacceptable slurs and criticism," Adriana Edmeades Jones, legal and policy director at Rights Watch (UK), told MEMO.
"The decision is not only a vindication of the rights of these Iraqi civilians who have been abused, in breach of UK and international law, but also a vindication of the efforts of their lawyers. It is our duty as a civil society to hold the actions of the government to account: it is very gratifying to see that the rule of law in this country remains able to do so," Jones continued.
"Almost 30 years to the date that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the use of hooding and sleep deprivation by British soldiers in Ireland constituted inhuman and degrading treatment, a British judge has had to once again remind the Ministry of Defence that such behaviour is unlawful and unacceptable," Fahad Ansari, human rights solicitor at Duncan Lewis & Co, told MEMO.
"It is to the immense credit of the lawyers in this case that despite the political and media onslaught against them, they persisted with incredible courage to fight for justice for these innocent men who were abused by British soldiers," Ansari continued.
"I would hope this judgment will help bring an end to the current culture of disbelief surrounding claims of abuse by British soldiers and that those directly and politically responsible are brought to justice."
The court also ruled that the MoD's policy on detaining prisoners of war without correctly assessing whether the men were combatants or civilians was based on a misunderstanding of the Geneva Conventions. It is unclear how this may have been the case on the application of law and British practice.
The trials collectively lasted over two months and heard evidence from over 50 MoD witnesses and the four Iraqi claimants.
Two of the men could not prove they were in British custody at the time of abuse, however, the court found that the detainees were hooded while in control of British forces.
A major case is to be heard next year over allegations involving the UK's joint liability with US forces.