In an historic ruling, the Supreme Court has found that human rights legislation covers soldiers engaged in combat overseas. The court decided that soldiers had inalienable rights under UK law which applied which applied whether they were in the UK or abroad.
The ruling came after the MoD was taken to court by the families of three men who were killed in service in Iraq when their inadequately armoured vehicles were blown up by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Between 2005 and 2007, Kirk Redpath, Phillip Hewett and Lee Ellis lost their lives and their families sought damages from the MoD for negligently failing to discharge their legal duty of care to protect the soldiers so far as could reasonably be expected. Further claims for compensation were made by the relatives of men who were killed or sustained injuries after the Challenger tank they were in was fired upon by comrades in a separate vehicle. The families argued that the MoD had failed to train the soldiers adequately and that most censurably, it had sent them out in vehicles which were known to be underequipped.
The MoD’s lawyers argued that the claims were invalid because British soldiers were no longer under UK jurisdiction once they left their British base. The idea of “combat immunity” was central to the defence; the idea that it would be unjust and unreasonable to make the MoD’s duty of care apply to troops in the heat of battle.
The Supreme Court looked at various matters including whether or not it would indeed be unfair to impose such a duty of care on the MoD. It also looked into whether or not article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights covers British soldiers whilst they are abroad (which would assume that they are within UK jurisdiction).
It was found that the principle of combat immunity was not relevant in this case and that the soldiers were within UK jurisdiction, therefore giving them human rights as recognised by UK law. However, whether or not those rights were breached will need to be decided at further trials meaning that the legal battles are likely to continue for some time as families will be able to bring claims citing both negligence and breaches of human rights. It is highly likely that the ruling of the Supreme Court Justices will lead to a host of similar claims but each case will be considered on an individual basis.
The issue of troops being sent into war underequipped has caused major controversy in recent years with stories of troops being forced to buy their own protective equipment shocking newspaper readers. Many have accused the MoD of neglect whilst others have defended the government y saying that it has made the most of limited resources. However, the deaths of the men named in this case demonstrates that soldiers are not receiving the protection they deserve and it is crucial that the MoD responds to the ruling by improving the level of protection afforded to soldiers who are serving overseas.
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