Browne makes human rights concession

Defence secretary Des Browne has admitted human rights law does apply “to some degree” to British soldiers fighting abroad.

The admission comes despite his decision to appeal a high court judge ruling yesterday that sending UK troops into war with defective equipment “could” amount to a breach of their human rights.

Speaking on the Today programme, Mr Browne insisted he was not opposed to coroners’ “inquests and investigations” into equipment failures among active service personnel.

But he insisted the case of Private Jason Smith, 32, who died of heatstroke in Iraq, had resulted in a ruling from Mr Justice Collins which appeared contradictory from judgments in the House of Lords last week.

“One of the things that Justice Collins said yesterday was that he would have to deal with the decision that was handed down by the House of Lords earlier in the week and his draft judgment at the moment doesn’t deal with that yet,” he explained.

“He granted us leave to appeal because he understands that if we are to send young people into operational environments then we have to have clarity and stability about the legal circumstances in which they go.”

Yesterday Mr Browne said British troops were “very well equipped” and repeated that belief this morning. He pointed to opinion that troops being taken into Afghanistan are “better equipped and supported” than any of their predecessors throughout history.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesperson Nick Harvey said Mr Browne’s department was guilty of “penny-pinching” following the ruling yesterday, however.

“That a judge feels he must even raise the issue of soldiers’ human rights is a damning indictment of all the avoidable deaths that have occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan due to faulty or unavailable kit,” he said.