Two Iraqi prisoners accused of murdering two British soldiers were handed over to Iraqi authorities, it emerged today.
Defence Secretary John Hutton announced the move despite a ruling by The European Court of Human Rights blocking the handover.
Iraqi nationals Faisal Al-Saadoon, 56, and Khalaf Mufdhi, 58, were transferred by forces in Basra to Iraqi authorities.
An order authorised by officials at the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg effectively suspended the Court of Appeal's decision earlier yesterday that the two prisoners could be lawfully transferred to the Iraqi Higher Tribunal.
But Mr Hutton said: "The two Iraqis suspected of involvement in the murder of two British soldiers have been transferred to the Iraqi authorities to face trial for war crimes.
"After December 31 2008 the UK had no legal power to detain any individuals in Iraq and continued detention would be a breach of the UK's international law obligations.
"The European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg has asked the UK to retain custody in Iraq of Mr Al Saadoon and Mr Mufdhi when we have no legal power to do so."
"Compliance with Strasbourg requests would normally be a matter of course but these are exceptional circumstances," Mr Hutton added.
"We cannot comply with requests to act in a manner which the UK Court of Appeal has held to be a breach of our international legal obligations.
"The only lawful action open to the UK was to transfer these individuals to the Iraqi authorities.
"The UK Government has received assurances from the Iraqi government that Mr Al-Saadoon and Mr Mufdhi will be treated humanely in Iraqi custody.
"Throughout this case, the Ministry of Defence has acted in the interests of justice and in the interests of the families of the two murdered soldiers.
"We should all welcome the fact that the Iraqi courts will now be able to establish the facts and for the course of justice to be followed."
The men had argued that the transfer would violate their human rights because of the risk of torture while in Iraqi custody, the risk of an unfair trial and the risk of facing the death penalty - all outlawed by the Human Rights Convention, to which the UK is a signatory.
Transferring them, they said, would breach a legitimate expectation that the UK government would not expose any individuals to legal proceedings which could lead to a death sentence.
The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that the transfer could go ahead despite the "real risk" of the men facing the death penalty.
The European Court later made a last minute injunction to stop the transfer.
But Mr Hutton said that the men had been handed over after "the unanimous Court of Appeal ruling that Mr Al Saadoon and Mr Mufdhi do not fall within the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights."Reuse content