Iraqi civilians who sought to sue the UK Government over alleged unlawful detention and/or physical maltreatment by British forces in Iraq have lost their cases on the basis of time bar.

The UK Supreme Court today upheld a Court of Appeal decision that an order providing immunity for coalition forces from Iraqi legal process and jurisdiction had not effect outside Iraq, and could not prevent the relevant three year limitation period running against the claimants in actions brought in the UK.

The decision, in cases brought by 14 lead claimants out of 600 similar claims, turned on the effect of the Foreign Limitation Periods Act 1984, which provides that where a claim is brought in England which is governed by a foreign law, the English courts are to apply the foreign law of limitation.

At first instance the judge held that the limitation period was suspended as the order constituted an impediment rendering it impossible for the plaintiff to claim his right, in terms of the Iraqi Civil Code.

Reversing him, the Court of Appeal held that the order (which was still in force) was a mere procedural bar that did not apply to proceedings in England. The UK Supreme Court agreed, though applied different reasons. Lord Sumption, giving the unanimous judgment of the court, said that the order was not an impediment to the only relevant proceedings, which were in England. It did not therefore suspend the running of the Iraqi law limitation period.

The court was not disapplying Iraqi law, but applying its principles different facts. "The facts relevant to proceedings in England are not necessarily the same as those which would be relevant to proceedings in Iraq", he concluded.

Click here to view the judgment.