22/11/2011 06:41 GMT | Updated 22/11/2011 06:45 GMT

Iraqi Civilians Win Legal Battle Over Torture Inquiry

More than 100 Iraqi civilians have won a landmark Court of Appeal battle in their bid for a fresh public inquiry into allegations of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment made against British soldiers and interrogators in Iraq.

The group appealed against a High Court decision upholding the Government's refusal to order an immediate, wide-ranging investigation into whether there was systemic abuse as opposed to ill-treatment by "a few bad apples".

Some 128 Iraqis complain that ill-treatment occurred between March 2003 and December 2008 in British-controlled detention facilities in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

The High Court ruled last December that the inquiry being sought was unnecessary because the Government had set up a team, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), to investigate the allegations of abuse with a view to the identification and punishment of anyone responsible for wrongdoing.

Three appeal judges, however, have ruled that IHAT "lacks independence" and ordered the Defence Secretary to reconsider. They also found that other inquiries failed to fully meet the needs of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects against inhuman and degrading treatment.

The ruling was made by Lord Justice Maurice Kay, vice president of the Court of Appeal's civil division, sitting with Lord Justice Sullivan and Lord Justice Pitchford. It was a dramatic victory for Ali Zaki Mousa, from Basra, the lead claimant, who alleges he endured months of beatings and other abuse in the custody of British soldiers in 2006-07.

High Court judges Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Silber had rejected his claims for an immediate fresh public inquiry, saying the IHAT investigations were sufficient to meet the needs of justice.

The judges also took into account that there were two other "significant public inquiries" into specific allegations of ill-treatment of detainees in Iraq - the Baha Mousa inquiry, which reported in September, and the Al Sweady inquiry, where a hearing date has yet to be set.

The High Court said it was possible that a new inquiry might be "required in due course" - but it was a matter which could "lawfully be left for decision at a future date". But the appeal judges disagreed and ruled the Government was failing to meet its duties under Article 3.

Later a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We note that the Court of Appeal has not ordered a public inquiry but has asked the Defence Secretary to reconsider how to meet the investigative obligations. We will examine the judgment very carefully and consider next steps."