Troops protected by Human Rights Act wherever they are, rules Supreme Court

Soldiers serving in the British armed forces will be protected by the Human Rights Act (HRA) wherever they are based, the Supreme Court ruled this morning.

Robert Weir QC
Robert Weir QC

The ruling , given by seven Supreme Court justices, will give the families of soldiers killed in Iraq a route to redress against the government.

In October the Court of Appeal (CoA) refused to strike out the claims, which were brought by the families of three soldiers killed while serving in Iraq (19 October 2012 ).

Devereux Chambers’ Robert Weir QC, instructed by Hodge Jones & Allen partner Jocelyn Cockburn, represented the families in their claims that the MoD failed to provide armoured equipment suitable to protect against improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Matrix Chambers ’ Jessica Simor QC was led by Weir throughout the hearings.

At the CoA Blackstone Chambers ’ James Eadie QC, appearing for the Ministry of Justice, had argued that the claims were not viable because soldiers were not protected by the HRA while overseas.

The troops are protected by the Human Rights Convention on base, and fair trial standards apply during court martial, but the MoD argued that the Convention should cease to apply when troops step off base.

The Supreme Court today said troops carry the protection of UK law with them while they are on duty, by virtue of the fact that they remain under the authority and control of the UK throughout their service.

Supreme Court justice Lord Hope stated: “Servicemen and women relinquish almost total control over their lives to the state. It does not seem possible to separate them, in their capacity as state agents, from those whom they affect when they are exercising authority and control on the state’s behalf.”

Allowing the claims, the court found that the three soldiers killed in Iraq in Snatch Land Rovers were within the UK’s jurisdiction at the time of their deaths and so were subject to human rights legislation.

They were Pte Phillip Hewett, 21, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, who was killed in July 2005, Pte Lee Ellis, 23, of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, killed in February 2006, and Lance Cpl Kirk Redpath, 22, of Romford, east London, killed in August 2007.

Weir welcomed the ruling, stating: “I’m delighted that the Supreme Court now recognises that soldiers can rely on human rights wherever they are in the world.  Soldiers are expected to uphold the human rights of civilians. That they should enjoy the same rights fits far better with this expectation of conduct.”

For the appellant Smith

Devereux Chambers’ Robert Weir QC and Matrix Chambers’ Jessica Simor QC instructed by Hodge Jones & Allen Jocelyn Cockburn

For the appellant Allbutt

Matrix Chambers’ Richard Hermer QC leading Doughty Street’s Ben Silverstone instructed by Leigh Day partner Shubhaa Srinivasan

For the respondent Ministry of Justice

Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC leading 11KBW’s Sarah Moore, Karen Steyn and Blackstone’s David Pievsky instruced by the Treasury

For the intervener JUSTICE

Matrix Chambers’ Alex Bailin QC leading Edward Craven also of Matrix with Ian Steele of Blackstone Chambers instructed by Herbert Smith Freehills partner Andrew Lidbetter,

For the intervener Equality & Human Rights Commission

Matrix Chambers’ Helen Mountfield QC leading Elizabeth Prochaska of the same set instructed directly