South Scotland

Analysis: Troops human rights ruling

Judges have ruled that British troops are not protected by human rights laws on the battlefield after a family raised the case of a soldier who died of heatstroke in Iraq. Pte Jason Smith died in August 2003.

What does the judgement mean?

On a practical basis troops are unlikely to notice any difference.

A member of the British military on a base in Afghanistan is protected fully by the Human Rights Act, just like any other British citizen.

That means Article 2, the right to life, applies. This obliges the MoD to take "reasonable steps" to protect personnel. If there is a death and the MoD might be at fault then there has to be a full, open inquest.

If a member of the military takes one step off the base they do not benefit from the same protections. There is no automatic right to a full inquest, the same "duty of care" will not exist.

The MoD's commitment to the military covenant though remains undiluted. Commanders will still have safety as a priority.

In the short term families trying to bring legal action over the deaths of relatives in lightly armoured snatch LandRovers will find the cases much more difficult to argue.

This was a majority decision so there is still room for interpretation. The issue of the scope of the Human Rights Act will probably finally be decided by the European Court.

Catherine Smith will find out very soon when a new inquest into her son's death will take place.

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