More than 100 Iraqi civilians have won the right to a new public inquiry into allegations of torture at the hands of British soldiers in Iraq.
Soldiers and interrogators working for the UK government are accused of carrying out torture and inhumane and degrading treatment against civilian detainees between 2003 and 2008.
A group of 128 Iraqis took their case to the UK's Court of Appeal after the government decided not to hold public hearings into the allegations, the Associated Press said.
Judges said in December 2010 that a public inquiry was not necessary since the government had already set up a special unit, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), to look into the claims, which London is obliged to investigate as part of the European convention on human rights.
Yet the appeals court ruled Tuesday that the IHAT "lacks independence."
The unit was judged to be compromised by the fact that some of its investigators served with a military police unit responsible for detaining the Iraqi civilians, the Guardian reported.
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The landmark ruling clears the way for a wide-ranging, public investigation into whether abuse of prisoners was systemic rather than limited to individual soldiers as has been previously suggested, said the UK Press Association.
The judgement does not necessarily oblige the government to hold an inquiry, however. The BBC cited a Ministry of Defence spokesperson:
"We note that the Court of Appeal has not ordered a public inquiry but has asked the defence secretary to reconsider how to meet the investigative obligations.
"We will examine the judgment very carefully and consider next steps."
An earlier inquiry into the death of an Iraqi man in British army custody in Basra in 2003 found the soldiers involved guilty of a "very serious breach of discipline," but did not say there was a wider culture of violence among British troops.
The report, released in September 2011 after a three-year investigation, also criticized the training given to UK soldiers, which failed to warn them against the use of banned interrogation techniques including sleep derivation, food deprivation, the use of hoods and painful stress positions.
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One of the soldiers involved in the death of detainee Baha Mousa, Corporal Donald Payne, was jailed for one year and dismissed from the army in 2007 after admitting to abusing civilian detainees.
He was the first member of the British military to be convicted of war crimes, the BBC said.
Nineteen other soldiers were identified as being directly involved in inhuman treatment of prisoners, some of whom were unsuccessfully prosecuted in a military court.
Following the inquiry, lawyers for the families of victims said there was potentially enough evidence to prosecute the soldiers in civilian courts, the Telegraph reported at the time.
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