Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ECHR protection for British soldiers on battlefield as Court of Appeal upholds ruling

Human Rights laws can protect British soldiers on the battlefield, after the Court of Appeal in London refused an attempt by the Government to overturn the ruling that ECHR does not cover British servicemen & women on the battlefield. (Treat our servicemen & women with some respect please – Ed)

The Herald reports :

Appeal court upholds ruling over death of Scots soldier

HELEN McARDLE May 19 2009

The mother of a Scottish soldier who died of heat exhaustion in Iraq has described her joy after the Court of Appeal refused an attempt by the government to overturn a ruling that British service personnel can be covered by human rights law on the battlefield.

Three judges yesterday rejected the challenges to a ruling at the High Court in London last year over the death of 32-year-old Private Jason Smith, from Hawick, who died of heatstroke in August 2003 while serving with the Territorial Army.

He fell unconscious while the battalion was camped in an enclosed base in southern Iraq, without cold water or air conditioning, and died shortly afterwards.

The deputy coroner of Oxfordshire, Andrew Walker, said Pte Smith's death was "caused by a serious failure to recognise and take appropriate steps to address the difficulty he had in adjusting to the climate".

At the 2006 inquest, fellow soldiers described conditions at the base as "unbearably hot" and as a "dusty hell hole".

Tragically, a generator to power the air-conditioning system was delivered to the base just 24 hours after his death.

Last April, High Court judge Andrew Collins ruled that sending British troops on patrol or into battle with defective equipment could be a breach of human rights. His judgment came during a request for military inquest guidelines in the case of Pte Smith.

"The state must make reasonable efforts to provide protection to soldiers wherever they are. It's not a particularly onerous duty," lawyer Jocelyn Cockburn, representing the Smith family, said yesterday.

"This isn't the end of our ability to go to war. It is about requiring the state, when they are planning procurement and planning offensives abroad, to take into account the human rights of their soldiers."

A new inquest will now be held into Pte Smith's death. His mother, Catherine, said she was overwhelmed by the court's verdict, but angry at the Ministry of Defence's attitude.

She said: "Jason lost his life and I really didn't want it happening again to any other family to go through what I'm going through," she said. "They need their rights, and the right to life is the main principle of this fight."

The MoD said it was very concerned about any attempt to "insert lawyers into the chain of command", and warned the judges' decision could have "serious implications" for overseas operations.

It has been given permission to appeal against yesterday's verdict in the House of Lords, but only on the condition the Defence Secretary covers the legal costs.

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said of the judgment: "While it does not affect the position concerning Private Smith, it potentially has very serious implications for the ability of our forces - and those of our allies - to conduct military operations overseas."

The MoD said it accepted Pte Smith had been under British authority when receiving medical attention at an Army base in Iraq and so the Human Rights Act applied to him.

"But in the heat of battle during dynamic and fast- moving military operations on foreign territory, the UK could not secure the rights and freedoms which the Human Rights Act seeks to guarantee," it said in a statement.

"We are very concerned by the attempt to insert lawyers into the chain of command in the middle of a battle, which would only create uncertainty, hesitation and potentially greater risk to our people."

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