The House of Lords, on 13 June, has ruled that the Human Rights Act can apply to a UK authority acting outside the territory of the UK but within the terms of UK jurisdiction.
The Iraqi families claimed that their relatives had been unlawfully killed by members of the British army in southern Iraq in 2003. In particular, Mr Al-Skeini (the only claimant to actually succeed in his claim before the Lords) argued that his son had died as a result of multiple injuries that were inflicted by the British army while he was held in detention in a British military base in Iraq.
Following the deaths of their relatives, the Iraqi families applied to the Home Secretary for a public inquiry into the deaths to be held. The Secretary of State declined to do so and, following notification of his decision, the families challenged his decision in the High Court. Their lawyers argued that the Secretary of State's decision was incompatible with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life) and that therefore, under the Human Rights Act, his decision must be revisited.
The UK government, in response, argued that the Human Rights Act could not apply in this case since the alleged incidents took place outside of UK territory and therefore outside of UK jurisdiction. The House of Lords, however, disagreed. The Law Lords found that it is possible to extend the parameters of the Human Rights Act to any public authority, not only when acting physically within the UK, but also in exceptional circumstances the victim was “within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom” for the purposes of the ECHR.
Importantly, the Law Lords rejected the government's arguments that it would be offensive to the sovereignty of foreign countries if UK law was to be directly applicable to acts carried out on their soil. The Law Lords saw no such problem and found that it was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the ECHR – indeed it was desirable – for the Human Rights Act to apply to UK authorities acting outside the territory of the UK.