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Refining Al-Skeini v UK: The ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearing in Jaloud v Netherlands

Published on March 7, 2014        Author: 

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The Grand Chamber at the ECtHR recently heard the case of Jaloud v the Netherlands. The case raises interesting issues concerning both extra-territorial jurisdiction and the obligations States owe to foreign nationals when deployed in foreign military operations. The facts are reasonably straightforward. The applicant’s son drove his car through a checkpoint without stopping in Iraq in 2004. A Dutch lieutenant at the checkpoint opened fire, hitting the applicant’s son who later died of his wounds. No weapons were found within the car. The Dutch forces there investigated the use of force and concluded that the use of force had been justified.

Jurisdiction

To begin with the jurisdictional issues, any hope that the question of extra-territorial jurisdiction had been settled in Al-Skeini v UK was dashed when both the Dutch and the UK, who acted as third party interveners, presented arguments that the applicant’s son was not within Dutch jurisdiction for the purposes of Article 1 ECHR when he was killed.

In principle there are 2 main forms of extra-territorial jurisdiction: spatial jurisdiction, which arises when the State exercises effective control over some foreign territory and personal jurisdiction, which arises where the State exercises authority and control over an individual. In Al-Skeini v UK, the ECtHR held that the UK was obliged to provide Convention-compliant investigations into the deaths of Iraqi civilians which occurred in the context of UK military operations while it occupied Iraq. The ECtHR applied a jurisdiction model somewhere between spatial jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction by holding that jurisdiction arises when a contracting State ‘exercises all or some of the public powers normally to be exercised [by the government of the State]’, (Al-Skeini at [135]) and then exercises authority and control over a person. In these circumstances instantaneous acts of UK soldiers, such as shootings, automatically created a jurisdictional link to the State:

 the United Kingdom […] assumed in Iraq the exercise of some of the public powers normally to be exercised by a sovereign government […] the United Kingdom assumed authority and responsibility for the maintenance of security in South-East Iraq. In these exceptional circumstances, the Court considers that the United Kingdom, through its soldiers engaged in security operations in Basrah during the period in question, exercised authority and control over individuals killed in the course of such security operations, so as to establish a jurisdictional link between the deceased and the United Kingdom’ – (Al-Skeini at [149])

 The key difference between this model and standard personal jurisdiction is that where the State is exercising some public powers, the ECtHR treats the power to kill and the instantaneous act of killing as ‘authority and control’ over the individual (discussion of this here and here). Historically, the ECtHR had ruled that instantaneous acts, such as firing a missile from a plane, did not give rise to authority and control over the airstrike victims (see Bankovic and Ors v Italy and Ors).

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