Thursday, June 14, 2007

Judgment: Al-Skeini v. Secretary of State for Defence

Yesterday, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords delivered its judgment in Al-Skeini v. Secretary of State for Defence. The key issue was whether the Human Rights Act 1998 (which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into U.K. law) applied extraterritorially to the acts or omissions of British soldiers in Iraq. In particular, the question was whether Section 6(1) of the HRA ("It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.") applied abroad. Four of the five Law Lords held that the HRA did apply extraterritorially. As Lord Rodger of Earlsferry put it: "section 6 should be interpreted as applying not only when a public authority acts within the United Kingdom but also when it acts within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom for purposes of article 1 of the Convention, but outside the territory of the United Kingdom." For the majority, "within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom" meant within the "effective control" of the United Kingdom. On the facts of the case, the Law Lords dismissed the appeal of five of the appellants (who were shot dead during military operations), as well as the cross-appeal of the Secretary of State, and remitted the case of the sixth appellant (who died while in custody at a British military detention facility) to the divisional court for further proceedings.