Four Iraqi citizens have won hundreds of thousands of pounds in High Court damages against the Ministry of Defense over ill-treatment and unlawful detention during the Iraq War.
Mr. Justice Leggatt ruled the four men were entitled to compensation under the Human Rights Act, with one being awarded more than £30,000 ($40,290).
More than 600 Iraqis had alleged they suffered at the hands of British armed forces who were part of the Coalition forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, but their claims were thrown out by the courts in 2016.
But lawyers warned after today’s ruling that the four test cases could now mean the MoD faces paying out millions of pounds in compensation to more than 600 unresolved claims.
In the case of Kamil Najim Alseran, who was captured at his home at the end of March 2003 during the advance on Basra by British forces, the judge awarded £10,000 ($13,430) for ill-treatment following his capture, and £2,700 ($3,626) for 27 days of unlawful detention.
Abd Al-Waheed, who was arrested in a house raid carried out by British soldiers in Basra city in February 2007, was awarded a total of £33,300 ($44,722).
He was awarded £15,000 (20,145) in “respect of the beating” he suffered after his arrest, £15,000 ($20,145) for what the judge described as “the further inhuman and degrading treatment which he suffered encompassing harsh interrogation, being deprived of sleep and being deprived of sight and hearing.”
He was further compensated £3,300 ($4,431) for unlawful detention for 33 days.
The judge awarded damages to two other claimants, who can only be referred to as MRE and KSU for legal reasons.
When the war began, the men were serving on a merchant ship moored in the Khawr az Zubayr waterway north of Umm Qasr.
In March 2003, their ship was boarded by coalition forces and the four crew members, including MRE and KSU, were captured.
MRE was awarded a total of £28,140 ($37,792), made up of £10,000 ($13,430) for “hooding” with sandbags during a road journey, £1,000 ($1,343) for an eye injury sustained as a result of the hooding, and £15,000 ($20,155) for a blow struck to his head, along with £1,440 ($1,440) for the cost of medical treatment, and £600 ($887) for six days of unlawful imprisonment.
Leggatt awarded damages to KSU totaling £10,600 ($14,235) for the hooding and the same period of unlawful detention.
Leggatt announced his conclusions after overseeing two High Court trials during which Iraqi citizens gave evidence in an English courtroom for the first time.
“Four cases have been tried as lead cases.
“There is no assumption that these four cases are representative of others, but the conclusions reached on the legal issues and some of the factual issues raised are likely to affect many of the remaining cases in the litigation.”
A MoD spokesperson said: “Our military personnel served with great courage in Iraq, often working under extremely difficult circumstances.
“We note the Court’s ruling that these four detainees were not treated as they should have been, and are studying the judgment.”
The spokesman said the MoD has not yet decided whether to appeal any of the court’s conclusions.
It added no service personnel or veterans have been interviewed or charged in relation to the incidents.
Sapna Malik, a partner in the international claims team at Leigh Day, who represented Alseran and Al-Waheed, said: “These trials took place against an onslaught of political, military and media slurs of Iraqis bringing spurious claims, and strident criticism of us, as lawyers, representing them.
“Yet we have just witnessed the rule of law in action. Our clients are grateful that the judge approached their claims without any preconception or presumption that allegations of misconduct by British soldiers are inherently unlikely to be true.
“Our clients’ evidence has been tested at length in court and the Ministry of Defense has been found wanting.
“It is vital that those wronged by the U.K. Government, whether in this country or overseas, are able to seek justice and redress. Their ability to do so in our courts is not a witch-hunt but a testament to the strength of our democracy.’
Shubhaa Srinivasan, also a partner at Leigh Day, who represented MRE and KSU, said: “The decision sends a clear message that no-one, including the British Government, should be above the law.”