Britain’s highest court is to debate whether soldiers in battle are entitled to the right to life under human rights legislation.
6:30AM GMT 10 Nov 2012
The Supreme Court will reportedly investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Private Phillip Hewett in Iraq in July 2005 and examine whether troops in war zones are covered by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Private Hewett’s mother Sue Smith has fought for justice since the 21-year-old was blown up with two colleagues from the Staffordshire Regiment in a roadside bomb attack on their armoured Snatch Land Rover.
In October, the lower Court of Appeal ruled that relatives of soldiers who had been killed in action could pursue claims on negligence grounds, but not make damages claims under human rights legislation.
The judges accepted the Government’s assertion that the battlefield was beyond the reach of litigation but the families’ lawyers said the fight would go on and they would take the human rights battle to the Supreme Court.
Ms Smith, 51, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, said outside the court: “It is just so dismissive. It ‘doesn’t matter’. They are Action Men. If you break them, just bury them. But they are not just Action Men. People need to make a stand.”
Currently servicemen and women on bases in Afghanistan are covered by human rights law, but this protection dissipates as soon as they walk out of the gates.
But last year the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Iraqi citizens killed when the UK was effectively the occupying force in southern Iraq were protected by the European convention.
Speaking to The Independent, Ms Smith’s solicitor Jocelyn Cockburn, said: “It is anomalous that, as the law currently stands, soldiers are capable of bringing others within UK jurisdiction but they are not within it themselves.
“We afford Iraqi citizens rights of protection which we cannot even give to our own soldiers.”
She said she hoped the Strasbourg ruling would strengthen Ms Smith’s argument before the Supreme Court which is expected to take place before seven judges in February.
Ms Smith, a community care worker, has accused the Ministry of Defence of breaching its duty of care by making British troops use the poorly-protected Snatch vehicles in Iraq.
She said: “Sometimes I feel the Government is in control of everything and that I am fighting a system that everybody works for. It is nice to know I might have a chance.
“I find it disgusting that we employ soldiers to defend our country and send them out without any human rights, yet we criticise other countries for not honouring their human rights.”
John Wadham, general counsel for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that Article 2 of the ECHR did not offer absolute protection but simply placed a responsibility on the state to protect life in the context of the situation.