Supreme Court ruling that soldiers have the right to life even in war zones will have major ramifications for MoD

Relatives of three men killed by roadside bombs while in Snatch Land Rovers can pursue damages under the Human Rights Act

Soldiers have the right to life even in war zones, the highest court in the land ruled today.

The landmark judgement will have major ramifications for the Ministry of Defence, reinforcing its duty to ensure that troops are properly prepared and equipped when sent to war.

Tonight experts estimated that, along with a second judgement giving families the right to sue for negligence, it could open the way for hundreds of claims. Already up to 150 have been awaiting the outcome of yesterday's judgement.

The Supreme Court victory is the culmination of a bitterly fought six-year legal battle by Sue Smith, a Midlands care worker whose son Private Phillip Hewett, 21, was killed in Iraq alongside two fellow soldiers from the 1st Battalion, the Staffordshire Regiment, when a roadside bomb hit their Snatch Land Rover in July 2005.

"They can no longer treat soldiers as sub-human with no rights. It's been a long fight but it's absolutely brilliant. Now serving soldiers have got human rights," said Mrs Smith.

The 51-year-old, who said she had faced alienation and ridicule during her long fight against the MoD, added: "If I hadn't done it for Phillip, who would? It won't bring him back but it is for other boys. It might save lives in the future."

Until now, soldiers have not been covered by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights - which protects the right to life - once they step off a British base in a war zone. But this morning the judges said that protection should be extended to the field of operations.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "I am very concerned at the wider implications of this judgment, which could ultimately make it more difficult for our troops to carry out operations and potentially throws open a wide range of military decisions to the uncertainty of litigation."

But Lord Hope, deputy president of the Supreme Court, said it was not imposing obligations that were unrealistic or disproportionate.

Legal experts said the ruling would not affect judgements made on the battlefield but simply place a responsibility on the state to ensure proper training and equipment.

"A very wide margin of appreciation has been given to decisions taken in the heat of battle. No-one would want to second guess a decision taken in very difficult conditions," said Jocelyn Cockburn, Mrs Smith's solicitor. "It is essential that we recognise the human rights and dignity of our soldiers. How else can we expect them to uphold the fundamental human rights of those they come across in conflict if they themselves are not protected?"

Mrs Smith brought the case alongside the family of Private Lee Ellis, 23, of 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, who was also killed in the Snatch, a vehicle so vulnerable to bombs that it would earn the nickname the mobile coffin and eventually be withdrawn from combat operations.

Pte Ellis's family, along with victims of a friendly fire attack in which a Challenger 2 tank was accidentally hit by another in 2003, had already won a landmark victory in the Court of Appeal to pursue damages claims against the Government on the grounds of negligence. But the appeal court judges rejected an argument put on behalf of Mrs Smith and the Ellis family that they also had a claim under Article 2 of the ECHR.

Today, however, the Supreme Court not only allowed the human rights claim but they also rejected a Government appeal against the other negligence cases, paving the way for all the families to sue the Ministry of Defence.

The court agreed that soldiers serving outside a base in country's such as Afghanistan should be protected by human rights, particularly bearing in mind a recent ruling by Strasbourg judges that Iraqis were covered by the convention during a time when Basra was effectively a British-occupied territory.

However, they said yesterday that command decisions and those made on the battlefield would fall outside the remit of Article 2, while other cases would have to be judged on their individual merit.

In terms of negligence claims, the judges said the Ministry of Defence should not be able to hide behind combat immunity. It should only be a defence limited to conflict and not be extended to matters of planning and preparation.

"Today's judgement confirms that the Ministry of Defence can no longer hide behind a claim to blanket combat immunity, or say that soldiers have a weaker claim to human rights than the rest of us. When mistakes are made, the MoD must, like other employers and public bodies, be held to account," Philippa Tuckman, military claims solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  "Soldiers and their families who have suffered similar tragedies have been waiting for today's news and will be preparing to bring claims of their own."

Geraldine McCool, a military case specialist at MPH Solicitors, estimated that the negligence ruling would pave the way for between 100 to 150 cases already in the pipeline.

"On the positive side a lot of cases can proceed and evidence can be heard on an individual basis," she said.

It remains to be seen how many new human rights claims there will be as they must be brought within a year. Already, the family of Corporal Dewi Pritchard, 36, a soldier shot in Basra while travelling in a civilian vehicle, has a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
News
people
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced