The Government has today announced to Parliament the establishment of a statutory public inquiry which will examine allegations that British Special Forces operating in Afghanistan murdered innocent civilians and engaged in an orchestrated and wide-ranging cover up of the deaths. The inquiry, which will be chaired by senior Court of Appeal Judge Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and will have power to compel witnesses to give evidence, will examine allegations of extrajudicial killings by elite British forces in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013 and will also examine the adequacy of the response of the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Military Police to those allegations.
Today’s announcement is the culmination of years-long judicial review proceedings brought by the relatives of eight Afghan civilians who were shot dead by UK forces in night raids on their homes in 2011 and 2012. In 2019, a relative of four men who were killed on a night raid on 16 February 2011 brought judicial review proceedings challenging the Ministry of Defence’s failure to conduct a prompt and effective investigation into the circumstances of the deaths (Saifullah v Secretary of State for Defence). In 2020, the relatives of four teenagers who were killed in a similar night raid incident in October 2012 brought judicial review proceedings challenging the Ministry of Defence’s failure to conduct a prompt and effective investigation into the circumstances of those deaths (Noorzai v Secretary of State for Defence). Documents disclosed in the course of the judicial review proceedings and referred to in open court show British soldiers expressed disbelief at the official accounts of the deaths of the Claimant’s relatives in Saifullah, which were described as “the latest massacre!” by British special forces, and referred to a “a casual disregard for life” and a possible “deliberate policy” by British special forces “to engage and kill fighting-aged males on target even when they did not pose a threat”.
After strenuously resisting both sets of judicial review proceedings for several years, in 2022 the Secretary of State applied to stay the claims on the basis that the circumstances of those deaths would be investigated by the public inquiry which was announced to Parliament today.
The Claimants in both the Saifullah and Noorzai judicial review proceedings are represented by Richard Hermer KC, Helen Law, Edward Craven, Jessica Jones and Emma Foubister (and Ben Jaffey KC at Blackstone Chambers), instructed by Tessa Gregory and Tom Short at Leigh Day.