U.K. Soldiers’ Families Can Sue Over Iraq Deaths, Court Says

The families of three U.K. soldiers killed in lightly-armored vehicles in Iraq can sue the British government for damages under European human-rights law, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled.

The seven-judge panel at the U.K.’s top court said today that at the time of their deaths the soldiers, killed in Snatch Land Rovers, were within the country’s jurisdiction and should be subject to human rights legislation.

“The sad fact is that, while members of the armed forces on active service can be given some measure of protection against death and injury, the nature of the job they do means that this can never be complete,” Judge David Hope said in the written ruling.

Nearly 180 British soldiers died during the country’s eight-year involvement in the U.S.-led Iraq war before troops were withdrawn in 2011. The claims in the case, some of which involve a friendly fire incident during the first days of the invasion, include claims that soldiers weren’t properly trained or given equipment to protect them from attacks.

Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said that the ruling might open up military operations to second guessing in the courts.

“Our thoughts remain with those who were injured and the families of those who sadly lost their lives,” Hammond said in an e-mailed statement. “I am very concerned at the wider implications of this judgment, which could ultimately make it more difficult for our troops to carry out operations and potentially throws open a wide range of military decisions to the uncertainty of litigation.”

Private Phillip Hewett was killed in July 2005, Private Lee Ellis died in February 2006 and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath was killed in August 2007, according to the ruling.

“The highest court in the land has now ruled the MoD, as employer must accept that it owes a duty of care to properly equip service personnel who go to war,” said Shubhaa Srinivasan, a lawyer at Leigh Day & Co. who represented one of the families. “We have constantly argued that the MoD’s position is morally and legally indefensible.”

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