Law Lords find UK Government must share human rights liability in Iraq with United Nations

12 December 2007

The Law Lords dismissed the UK Government's argument that UK forces in post-conflict Iraq were actually under UN control, finding that detainees in Iraq may rely on UK human rights laws.

The right not to be arbitrarily detained was found to have been modified by UN Security Council Resolution 1546, which permits internment of suspects in Iraq, but only to the extent strictly required by the resolution. Thus safeguards must be in place to ensure that detention only occurs when necessary for reasons of security.

Alex Gask, Liberty's Legal Officer who intervened in the case, said:

"Although the Law Lords have found that the right to liberty of Mr Al-Jedda is limited, the overall effect of this ruling is that the UK cannot pass the buck to the UN when faced with accusations of human rights abuses in post-conflict Iraq."

In determining whether Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to liberty) is qualified by the legal regime established by UNSCR 1546, Lord Carswell said:

"I would emphasise, however, that that power [to intern] has to be exercised in such a way as to minimise the infringements of the detainee's rights under article 5(1) of the Convention, in particular by adopting and operating to the fullest practicable extent safeguards..." such as "the regular review of the continuing need to detain each person and a system whereby that need and the underlying evidence can be checked and challenged by representatives on behalf of the detained persons".

Contact Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3 831 128


1. Judgment in Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al Jedda v the Secretary of State for Defence has been handed down by the Law Lords at 9:45 today. For a copy of the intervention submitted by Liberty and Justice contact

2. UNSCR 1546 was issued after the occupation of Iraq formally ended and applied to troops from all countries taking part in the UN authorised multi-national force in Iraq, including the UK.

3. This case follows the July 2007 House of Lords decision in Al-Skeini v Secretary of State for Defence, in which the Law Lords found that the protections within the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights apply to anyone held in British custody, even overseas.

4. UNSCR 1546 was based in part on a letter submitted by the-then United States Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004 which referred to the use of internment.

5. Facts of the case: Mr Al-Jedda was born in Iraq in May 1957 and is now 48 years old. He was a distinguished basket-ball player, and as a young adult he spent time in the United Arab Emirates ("the UAE") and then in Pakistan, before he moved to this country with his first wife in 1992. He made a claim for asylum and was granted indefinite leave to remain. He was subsequently granted British nationality. All four of his children by his first wife are British citizens. Prior to September 2004 the claimant was living in London, drawing incapacity benefit and income support. He says that he decided to travel to Iraq in September 2004 in order to try to obtain British visas for his family and to introduce his British children to their Iraqi relatives.

6. Mr Al Jedda's evidence is to the effect that on 10th October 2004, while he was visiting his sister, US troops accompanied by Iraqi national guards surrounded and entered his parents' house, searching for him. They then moved on to his sister's house, where they found him and arrested him. The evidence on behalf of the Secretary of State is that the arrest was affected by UK troops as part of an operation undertaken by UK troops. The reason for his arrest and detention was that he was suspected of membership of a terrorist group. He maintains that he has not been involved in any terrorist activities. Mr Al-Jedda seeks to secure both his release from detention in Iraq and his return to this country. He says that he will undertake to co-operate with a voluntary return, notwithstanding that he recognises that if he does return he may be liable to prosecution under the Terrorism Act 2000 or to stringent measures of control under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005.