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.
Today three appeal judges 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.
Today's 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 today the appeal judges disagreed and ruled the Government was failing to meet its duties under Article 3.
Lord Justice Kay said that under the IHAT arrangements, members of the Provost Branch of the Army, which includes the Royal Military Police, were investigating allegations "which necessarily include the possibility of culpable acts or omissions on the part of Provost Branch members".
The appeal judge said it was not a marginal case.
"On the contrary, we are of the view that the practical independence of IHAT is, at least as a matter or reasonable perception, substantially compromised".
The judge said it was also "entirely foreseeable" that the Baha Mousa inquiry could not satisfy the Government's legal obligations under Article 3 to investigate the allegations being made by the Iraqi civilians in today's case.
The appeal judges also ruled the High Court was wrong to give "real weight" to the fact that a new inquiry would have "heavy resource implications" and to adopt a "wait and see" policy.
They ruled the "resources argument" was reduced because IHAT lacked independence, and the wait and see policy could not be justified.
Allowing the Iraqi appeal, Lord Justice Kay said: "It will be for the (Defence Secretary) to reconsider how the Article 3 obligation should now be satisfied."