Returned soldiers may trigger test case

TWO British soldiers reportedly sent home from the Gulf to Colchester for refusing to fight could trigger a landmark human rights case, legal experts claimed yesterday.

TWO British soldiers reportedly sent home from the Gulf to Colchester for refusing to fight could trigger a landmark human rights case, legal experts claimed yesterday.

But the Ministry of Defence still insisted there was "no evidence" suggesting that a refusal to engage in combat was the reason the two men were flown back to Britain.

However, a solicitor aware of their case said he understood the personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade, based in Colchester, had refused to fight in the war because they were convinced it would involve the deaths of civilians.

Justin Hugheston-Roberts, chairman of Forces Law, a national network of lawyers advising and helping service personnel worldwide, said he had spoken personally to the solicitor representing the two soldiers.

Mr Hugheston-Roberts said their solicitor did not want to be named at this stage for fear of identifying his clients.

"I believe that these two soldiers have told their commanding officers that they will not fight in a war involving the death of innocent civilians," he said.

Most Read

"As a result of that they have been returned to unit. What will happen now is a matter of conjecture."

Mr Hugheston-Roberts said the solicitor representing the pair was "extremely reputable", although he added he was not a member of Forces Law, based in Wolverhampton.

He said the soldiers could be dismissed from the Army straight away, or be put before a court martial.

"Anything could happen in between the two," he explained.

If charged with disobeying orders the soldiers face up to two years in jail.

But he said they could have a defence under Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the use of torture or inhumane or degrading treatment against its citizens by the state.

The Convention was incorporated into UK law in October 2000.

John Cooper, a leading barrister and expert on Article Three, said the soldiers could have a "potential defence" under Article Three and if any plea was successful, the case would create legal history.

He said: "The article is derived from previous legislation and while it was used as part of a successful case of French riot police against their state in 1992, it has never before been relied upon in a military sense.

"What is interesting is that the article makes no provision for exceptions during times of war."

More than 4,500 men and women from the East Anglian region are serving in the Gulf, including troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade, based mainly at Colchester Garrison and Wattisham Airfield, near Needham Market.

Personnel serving in Iraq from 16 Air Assault Brigade's Colchester headquarters include the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 216 Signal Squadron, 13 Air Assault Support, Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, 156 Provost Company Royal Military Police and 16 Close Support Medical Regiment.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter