UK House of Lords decision on Rights of Civilian Detainees Abroad

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

In its ruling today in the case of Al Skeini and others, the UK House of Lords decided that the UK was obliged to conduct an independent investigation into the death of Baha Mousa, who died after sustaining 93 separate injuries while under detention by British forces in Basra, Iraq, in 2003. In a four-to-one verdict, the lords ruled that the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights applied to the conduct of British troops in Iraq. They upheld a court of appeal ruling of December 2005 that the UK authorities had "extra-territorial jurisdiction" concerning Mr Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel worker.

The families of five other Iraqi civilians killed in different incidents in Basra, but who were not in detention, were told their cases were not covered by UK human rights law. The families will now take their cases to the European courts.

The ruling means that anyone held in custody abroad by the British Army, will be protected by the UK Human Rights Act. As such they will have a right to life, a right not to be tortured and the right to access to a fair trial. It also means where a death in custody occurs, a public inquiry will have to be held.

The APT made submissions during the proceedings as part of a coalition of international human rights NGOs, who had urged the Court to find that the European Convention applied to individuals detained by European armed forces acting outside the ordinary territory of Europe. The APT accordingly welcomes the law lords’ decision in this regard, which should provide additional safeguards against torture or other ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in such circumstances.

The judgement in full (PDF)