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Judgments - R (on the application of Al-Jedda) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Defence (Respondent)


SESSION 2007-08

[2007] UKHL 58

on appeal from:[2006] EWCA Civ 327




R (on the application of Al-Jedda) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Defence (Respondent)

Appellate Committee

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Baroness Hale of Richmond

Lord Carswell

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood



Keir Starmer QC

Michael Fordham QC

Vaughan Lowe

Richard Hermer

Felicity Williams

(Instructed by Public Interest Lawyers)


Christopher Greenwood QC

Philip Sales QC

Jonathan Swift

(Instructed by Treasury Solicitor)

Interveners (Liberty and JUSTICE)

James Crawford SC

Shaheed Fatima

(Instructed by Herbert Smith)

Hearing date:

29-31 OCTOBER 2007






R (on the application of Al-Jedda) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Defence (Respondent)

[2007] UKHL 58


My Lords,

1.  Since October 2004 the appellant, who is a national of both this country and Iraq, has been held in custody by British troops at detention facilities in Iraq. He complains that his detention infringes his rights under article 5(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, a Convention right protected by the Human Rights Act 1998, and also founds a good claim in this country under the English common law. These claims were rejected by the Queen’s Bench Divisional Court (Moses and Richards JJ: [2005] EWHC 1809 (Admin), HRLR 1355) and also by the Court of Appeal (Brooke, May and Rix LJJ: [2006] EWCA Civ 327, [2007] QB 621. Both courts below delivered lengthy and careful judgments, commensurate with the importance and difficulty of the issues then raised, but a new issue has (by agreement) been raised and argued before the House, as explained below.

2.  The appellant has not been charged with any offence, and no charge or trial is in prospect. He was arrested and has since been detained on the ground that his internment is necessary for imperative reasons of security in Iraq. He was suspected of being a member of a terrorist group involved in weapons smuggling and explosive attacks in Iraq. He was believed by the British authorities to have been personally responsible for recruiting terrorists outside Iraq with a view to the commission of atrocities there; for facilitating the travel into Iraq of an identified terrorist explosives expert; for conspiring with that explosives expert to conduct attacks with improvised explosive devices against coalition forces in the areas around Fallujah and Baghdad; and for conspiring with the explosives expert and members of an Islamist terrorist cell in the Gulf to smuggle high tech detonation equipment into Iraq for use in attacks against coalition forces. These allegations are roundly denied by the appellant, and they have not been tested in any proceedings. Nor is their correctness an issue in these proceedings. The House must therefore resolve the legal issues falling for decision on the assumption that the allegations are true, without forming any judgment whether they are or not.

3.  In the courts below the appellant’s Human Rights Act argument was directed to a single question, turning essentially on the relationship between article 5(1) of the European Convention on the one hand and the United Nations Charter, and certain resolutions of the UN Security Council, on the other. More specifically, this question is agreed to be whether the provisions of article 5(1) of the Convention are qualified by the legal regime established pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution (“UNSCR”) 1546 (and subsequent resolutions) by reason of the operation of articles 25 and 103 of the UN Charter, such that the detention of the appellant has not been in violation of article 5(1). This is the issue which the courts below decided against the appellant, and it remains an issue dividing the parties. But it is now the second issue. For the Secretary of State, prompted (it seems) by the admissibility decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Behrami v France, Saramati v France, Germany and Norway (Application Nos 71412/01 and 78166/01 (unreported), 2 May 2007) has raised an entirely new issue, not ventilated in the courts below, directed to the attributability in international law of the conduct of which the appellant complains. As agreed, the issue is “whether, by reason of the provisions of UNSCR 1511 (2003) and/or UNSCR 1546 (2004), and/or UNSCR 1637 (2005) and/or UNSCR 1723 (2006) and/or (so far as it may be relevant) UNSCR 1483 (2003), the detention of the appellant is attributable to the United Nations and thus outside the scope of the ECHR". The Secretary of State, relying strongly on Behrami and Saramati, contends that the appellant’s detention is attributable to the UN, a contention which (if correct) defeats his claim under article 5. This has been treated as the first issue in this appeal.

4.  What is now the third issue can be more simply expressed: whether English common law or Iraqi law applies to the appellant’s detention and, if the former, whether there is any legal basis for his detention. The appellant would wish to contend that he has a good claim even if Iraqi law is applicable, but this question was not litigated below, was not agreed as an issue, has not been the subject of expert evidence of Iraqi law and has not been considered by the House.

The first issue

5.  It was common ground between the parties that the governing principle is that expressed by the International Law Commission in article 5 of its draft articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations (adopted in May 2004 and cited by the European Court in Behrami and Saramati, para 30):

Conduct of organs or agents placed at the disposal of an international organization by a state or another international organization

The conduct of an organ of a state or an organ or agent of an international organization that is placed at the disposal of another international organization shall be considered under international law an act of the latter organization if the organization exercises effective control over that conduct.”

The European Court also quoted (para 31) from paras 1 and 6-7 of the ILC’s authoritative commentary on this article (General Assembly Official Records 59th Session, Supp No 10 (A/59/10)):

“1.When an organ of a state is placed at the disposal of an international organization, the organ may be fully seconded to that organization. In this case the organ’s conduct would clearly be attributable only to the receiving organization…Article 5 deals with the different situation in which the lent organ or agent still acts to a certain extent as organ of the lending state or as organ or agent of the lending organization. This occurs for instance in the case of military contingents that a state placed at the disposal of the [UN] for a peacekeeping operation, since the state retains disciplinary powers and criminal jurisdiction over the members of the national contingent. In this situation the problem arises whether a specific conduct of the lent organ or agent has to be attributed to the receiving organization or to the lending state or organization …

6.Practice relating to peacekeeping forces is particularly significant in the present context because of the control that the contributing state retains over disciplinary matters and criminal affairs. This may have consequences with regard to attribution of conduct …

Attribution of conduct to the contributing state is clearly linked with the retention of some powers by that state over its national contingent and thus on the control that the state possesses in the relevant respect.

7.As has been held by several scholars, when an organ or agent is placed at the disposal of an international organization, the decisive question in relation to attribution of a given conduct appears to be who has effective control over the conduct in question.”

6.  Invited by the ILC to comment on the attribution of the conduct of peacekeeping forces to the UN or to contributing states, the UN Secretariat responded (A/CN.4/545, 25 June 2004, pp 17-18):

“The question of attribution of the conduct of a peacekeeping force to the United Nations or to contributing states is determined by the legal status of the force, the agreements between the United Nations and contributing states and their opposability to third states.

A United Nations peacekeeping force established by the Security Council or the General Assembly is a subsidiary organ of the United Nations. Members of the military personnel placed by member states under United Nations command although remaining in their national service are, for the duration of their assignment to the force, considered international personnel under the authority of the United Nations and subject to the instructions of the force commander. The functions of the force are exclusively international and members of the force are bound to discharge their functions with the interest of the United Nations only in view. The peacekeeping operation as a whole is subject to the executive direction and control of the Secretary-General, under the overall direction of the Security Council or the General Assembly as the case may be.

As a subsidiary organ of the United Nations, an act of a peacekeeping force is, in principle, imputable to the Organization, and if committed in violation of an international obligation entails the international responsibility of the Organization and its liability in compensation. The fact that any such act may have been performed by members of a national military contingent forming part of the peacekeeping operation does not affect the international responsibility of the United Nations vis-à-vis third states or individuals.

Agreements concluded between the United Nations and states contributing troops to the Organization contain a standard clause on third-party liability delineating the respective responsibilities of the Organization and contributing states for loss, damage, injury or death caused by the personnel or equipment of the contributing state. Article 9 of the Model Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations and [participating state] contributing resources to [The United Nations Peacekeeping Operation] provides in this regard:

‘The United Nations will be responsible for dealing with any claims by third parties where the loss of or damage to their property, or death or personal injury, was caused by the personnel or equipment provided by the Government in the performance of services or any other activity or operation under this memorandum. However if the loss, damage, death or injury arose from gross negligence or wilful misconduct of the personnel provided by the Government, the Government will be liable for such claims’ (A/51/967.annex).

While the agreements between the United Nations and contributing states divide the responsibility in the relationship between them, they are not opposable to third states. Vis-à-vis third states and individuals, therefore, where the international responsibility of the Organization is engaged, liability in compensation is, in the first place, entailed for the United Nations, which may then revert to the contributing state concerned and seek recovery on the basis of the agreement between them.

The principle of attribution of the conduct of a peacekeeping force to the United Nations is premised on the assumption that the operation in question is conducted under United Nations command and control, and thus has the legal status of a United Nations subsidiary organ. In authorized chapter VII operations conducted under national command and control, the conduct of the operation is imputable to the state or states conducting the operation. In joint operations, namely, those conducted by a United Nations peacekeeping operation and an operation conducted under national or regional command and control, international responsibility lies where effective command and control is vested and practically exercised (see paras 17-18 of the Secretary-General’s report A/51/389).”

The cited paragraphs in the Secretary-General’s report A/51/389 (20 September 1996) read:

“17.  The international responsibility of the United Nations for combat-related activities of the United Nations forces is premised on the assumption that the operation in question is under the exclusive command and control of the United Nations. Where a Chapter VII-authorized operation is conducted under national command and control, international responsibility for the activities of the force is vested in the state or states conducting the operation. The determination of responsibility becomes particularly difficult, however, in cases where a state or states provide the United Nations with forces in support of a United Nations operation but not necessarily as an integral part thereof, and where operational command and control is unified or coordinated. This was the case in Somalia where the Quick Reaction Force and the US Rangers were provided in support of the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II), and this was also the case in the former Yugoslavia where the Rapid Reaction Force was provided in support of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).

18.  In joint operations, international responsibility for the conduct of the troops lies where operational command and control is vested according to the arrangements establishing the modalities of cooperation between the state or states providing the troops and the United Nations. In the absence of formal arrangements between the United Nations and the state or states providing troops, responsibility would be determined in each and every case according to the degree of effective control exercised by either party in the conduct of the operation.”

The UN Secretariat was further invited by the ILC to address the following question (see A/CN.4/556, 12 May 2005, p4):

“In the event that a certain conduct, which a member state takes in compliance with a request on the part of an international organization, appears to be in breach of an international obligation both of that state and of that organization, would the organization also be regarded as responsible under international law? Would the answer be the same if the state’s wrongful conduct was not requested, but only authorized by the organization?

The Secretariat’s answer was (ibid, p 46):

“As for the third question raised by the commission, we are not aware of any situation where the Organization was held jointly or residually responsible for an unlawful act by a state in the conduct of an activity or operation carried out at the request of the Organization or under its authorization. In the practice of the Organization, however, a measure of accountability was nonetheless introduced in the relationship between the Security Council and member states conducting an operation under Security Council authorization, in the form of periodic reports to the Council on the conduct of the operation. While the submission of these reports provides the Council with an important ‘oversight tool', the Council itself or the United Nations as a whole cannot be held responsible for an unlawful act by the state conducting the operation, for the ultimate test of responsibility remains ‘effective command and control'.”

7.  It is necessary to identify the main events occurring between March 2003 and the present before considering the application of these principles to the present case.

8.  On 20 March 2003 coalition forces invaded Iraq. It is, as Brooke LJ observed in paragraph 15 of his judgment, “well known that the Coalition Forces invaded Iraq in the spring of 2003 after the abandonment of the efforts to obtain a further Security Council resolution which would give immediate backing to what the coalition states wished to do if Saddam Hussein did not comply with the Council’s demands". On 16 April 2003 General Franks, a US general, issued a “freedom message” in which he announced the creation of the Coalition Provisional Authority (“the CPA”), a civilian administration which would exercise powers of government in Iraq for the time being. Major combat operations were declared to be complete on 1 May 2003, although hostilities did not end on that date in all parts of the country. As from that date the US and the UK became occupying powers, within the meaning of Section III of the Hague Regulations on the Laws and Customs of War on land (1907) and the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) in the areas which they respectively occupied.

9.  On 8 May 2003 the Permanent Representatives of the UK and the US at the UN addressed a joint letter to the President of the Security Council. In it they said that the states participating in the coalition would strictly abide by their obligations under international law, including those relating to the essential humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people; that the US, the UK and their coalition partners, acting under existing command and control arrangements through the commander of coalition forces, had created the CPA; that the US, the UK and their coalition partners, working through the CPA, should among other things provide for security in and for the provisional administration of Iraq; that they would facilitate the efforts of the Iraqi people to take the first steps towards forming a representative government based on the rule of law; and that the UN had a vital role to play in providing humanitarian relief, in supporting the reconstruction of Iraq and in helping in the formation of an Iraqi interim authority. On 13 May 2003 the US Secretary for Defence, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, appointed Mr Paul Bremer to be administrator of the CPA, which was divided into regions, that in the south being under British control. The CPA promptly set about the business of government. By CPA Regulation No 1, dated 16 May 2003, the CPA assumed “all executive, legislative and judicial authority necessary to achieve its objectives, to be exercised under relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1483 (2003), and the laws and usages of war". Iraqi laws, unless suspended or replaced by the CPA, were to continue to apply insofar as they did not prevent the CPA from exercising its rights and fulfilling its obligations, or conflict with regulations or orders issued by the CPA. CPA Memorandum No 3 (CPA/MEM/27 June 2004/03) addressed issues of criminal procedure. In section 6(4) it referred to standards “in accordance with...the Fourth Geneva Convention", which were to apply to all persons who were detained by coalition forces when necessary for imperative reasons of security, providing a right of appeal by an internee to a competent body.

10.  Resolution 1483 was adopted by the Security Council on 22 May 2003. The resolution opened, as is usual, with a number of recitals, one of which referred to the US and UK Permanent Representatives’ letter of 8 May “recognizing the specific authorities, responsibilities, and obligations under applicable international law of these states as occupying powers under unified command (‘the Authority’)". Then, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Council called on the Authority, consistently with the UN Charter and other relevant international law, to promote the welfare of the Iraqi people and work towards the restoration of conditions of stability and security. The Council called upon all concerned to comply fully with their obligations under international law, including in particular the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907. The Council further requested the Secretary General to appoint a Special Representative in Iraq: he was to report regularly to the Council on his activities under the resolution, which were to co-ordinate the activities of the UN and other international agencies engaged in post-conflict processes and humanitarian assistance, in a number of specified ways including the protection of human rights. The Council decided, as it did consistently thereafter, to remain seised of the matter. In July 2003 an Iraqi Governing Council (“IGC”) was established, which the CPA was to consult on all matters concerning the temporary governance of Iraq.

11.  Pursuant to UNSCR 1483 the Secretary General established a United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), a step welcomed by the Council in Resolution 1500 of 14 August 2003. This development was foreshadowed by the Secretary General in a report dated 17 July, in which he announced the appointment of Mr de Mello as his Special Representative and outlined the tasks which UNAMI was to undertake.

12.  On 16 October 2003 the Security Council adopted Resolution 1511. Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Council looked forward to the assumption of governmental powers by the people of Iraq and resolved that the UN, through the Secretary General, his Special Representative and UNAMI “should strengthen its vital role in Iraq, including by providing humanitarian relief, promoting the economic reconstruction of and conditions for sustainable development in Iraq, and advancing efforts to restore and establish national and local institutions for representative government". The Secretary General was to report to the Security Council on his responsibilities under the resolution. In a new departure, the Council determined

“that the provision of security and stability is essential to the successful completion of the political process…and to the ability of the United Nations to contribute effectively to that process and the implementation of resolution 1483 (2003), and authorizes a multinational force ["MNF"] under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq, including for the purpose of ensuring necessary conditions for the implementation of the timetable and programme as well as to contribute to the security of [UNAMI], the Governing Council of Iraq and other institutions of the Iraqi interim administration, and key humanitarian and economic infrastructure".

Member states were urged to contribute assistance under this UN mandate, including military forces, to the multinational force referred to. The US, on behalf of the multinational force, was requested to report to the Council on the efforts and progress of this force.

13.  On 8 March 2004 the IGC promulgated a transitional administrative law, paving the way towards an interim and then an elected Iraqi government. Reporting to the Security Council on 16 April 2004, the US Permanent Representative said that the multinational force had conducted “the full spectrum of military operations, which range from the provision of humanitarian assistance, civil affairs and relief and reconstruction activities to the detention of those who are threats to security…” In a submission made by the CPA to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 28 May 2004 it was stated that the US and UK military forces retained legal responsibility for the prisoners of war and detainees whom they respectively held in custody. This was a matter of some significance, since by this time the abuses perpetrated by US military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison had become public knowledge.

14.  Chronologically, the next events to be noted are two letters, each dated 5 June 2004 and written to the President of the Security Council by the Prime Minister of the Interim Government of Iraq (Dr Allawi) and the US Secretary of State (Mr Powell). Dr Allawi looked forward to the establishment of a free and democratic Iraq, but stressed that security and stability continued to be essential to the country’s political transition, and asked for the support of the Security Council and the international community until Iraq could provide its own security. He sought a new resolution on the multinational force mandate to contribute to maintaining security in Iraq, “including through the tasks and arrangements set out in the letter” from Mr Powell to the President of the Council. Mr Powell in his letter recognised the request of Dr Allawi’s government for the continued presence of the multinational force in Iraq and confirmed that the force, under unified command, was prepared to continue to contribute to the maintenance of security in Iraq. He continued, using language plainly drawn from article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (although the period of occupation was about to end):

“Under the agreed arrangement, the MNF stands ready to continue to undertake a broad range of tasks to contribute to the maintenance of security and to ensure force protection. These include activities necessary to counter ongoing security threats posed by forces seeking to influence Iraq’s political future through violence. This will include combat operations against members of these groups, internment where this is necessary for imperative reasons of security, and the continued search for and securing of weapons that threaten Iraq’s security. A further objective will be to train and equip Iraqi security forces that will increasingly take responsibility for maintaining Iraq’s security. The MNF also stands ready as needed to participate in the provision of humanitarian assistance, civil affairs support, and relief and reconstruction assistance requested by the Iraqi Interim Government and in line with previous Security Council Resolutions.”

He regarded the existing framework governing responsibility for exercise of jurisdiction by contributing states over their military personnel as sufficient, and assured the President that “the forces that make up the MNF are and will remain committed at all times to act consistently with their obligations under the law of armed conflict, including the Geneva Conventions".