Over the past decade, the direction of travel of jurisprudence by English courts has significantly departed from an earlier position that considered the acts of the UK government in the exercise of foreign relations to be a non-justiciable area, and shifted towards scrutiny of the impact of UK foreign policy decisions on individuals (see Al Rawi v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs  QB 289; the Binyam Mohamed case, and more recently the discussion of crown act of state doctrine in Serdar Mohammed v Secretary of State for Defence). After all, as stated by Lord Sumption back in an address at the London School of Economics in 2012, “the acts of the executive are by definition justiciable in its own courts”. The most significant factor for such a shift, as Lord Sumption noted, was the enactment into English Law of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).
Despite this shift in the judicial attitude with regard to review of acts of the executive in foreign affairs, jurisdictional issues (ratione temporis) and time bars are proving to be hurdles in the path of claimants bringing claims with regard to acts engaged in by the UK government extraterritorially. The recent Supreme Court decision in Keyu and others v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs  UKSC 69 (“the Batang Kali massacre case” on which see this previous post) dealt with a temporal jurisdictional obstacle. The Supreme Court’s 12 May 2016 decision in Ministry of Defence (Respondent) v Iraqi Civilians (Appellant)  UKSC 25 (“The Iraqi civilians case”) is another example of a hurdle faced by claimants, this time in the guise of a time bar.
While the Batang Kali massacre case was concerned with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of public international law rules, (quite centrally, with the duties Article 2 ECHR imposes on the UK in the context of inquiries), the decision in the Iraqi civilians case concerned English private international law, and turned on a point of interpretation of The Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984.
In the Iraqi civilians case, the Supreme Court gave judgment in relation to 14 lead claimants (in claims by over 600 Iraqi citizens), who had alleged unlawful detention and/or physical maltreatment at the hands of British armed forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2009.
The Supreme Court held, applying Iraqi limitation law, that the claims of the Iraqi civilians in England were time-barred. It dismissed the appeal. This post addresses the central holding of this case. Read the rest of this entry…