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Iraqi civilians have claims for damages blocked by Supreme Court

Published 12/05/2016

The claims were launched in England against the Ministry of Defence after they were prevented from proceeding in Iraq itself, where the armed forces enjoy immunity from legal action
The claims were launched in England against the Ministry of Defence after they were prevented from proceeding in Iraq itself, where the armed forces enjoy immunity from legal action

Hundreds of Iraqi civilians who allege they were detained and mistreated by British forces have had their claims for damages blocked by the Supreme Court.

The claims were launched in England against the Ministry of Defence in what has become known as the ''Iraqi Civilian Litigation'' after they were prevented from proceeding in Iraq itself, where the armed forces enjoy immunity from legal action.

The claims were given the go-ahead by the High Court in London but were blocked by the Court of Appeal - a decision which has now been upheld by Supreme Court justices.

The appeal court ruled the cases were prevented from going ahead because of a time bar imposed under Iraqi law.

Although launched in England, all the cases are governed by Iraqi law.

The ruling affects over 600 Iraqi citizens who allege they suffered unlawful detention or physical maltreatment at the hands of British armed forces who were part of the Coalition forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2009.

Lord Sumption, one of a panel of five Supreme Court justices who considered the latest appeal, said a substantial number of the cases were time-barred in Iraq because they had been brought outside a three-year limitation period imposed by article 232 of the Iraqi Civil Code.

The Iraqi civilians claimed Iraqi law allowed the limitation period to be suspended because they were impeded from taking action in time by a Coalition Provisional Authority order which gave Coalition forces immunity from being sued in Iraq.

But the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the argument and upheld the appeal court's conclusion that the limitation period continued to operate.

Lord Sumption said the Coalition order applied only in Iraq and was not an impediment to "the only relevant proceedings", which were those launched in England. The limitation period under Iraqi law therefore continued to run.

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