Today's paper.... Army may lose right to stop charges By Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor (Filed: 12/06/2004) The Armed Forces may lose the right to block criminal charges against troops following the case of a soldier accused of shooting dead an Iraqi civilian during an operation. The Government will come under pressure to decide whether a change in the law is needed once the outcome of the case is known. Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, has been concerned about the powers of military officers to dismiss charges before a case comes to court. Yesterday, a solicitor for the families of 20 Iraqis, who he says were killed or injured by British troops, repeated his call for an independent inquiry. The Ministry of Defence admitted that the number of investigations involving British troops in Iraq was almost twice as many as Tony Blair had told MPs last month. The case that has exposed apparent shortcomings in military law involves a soldier formerly serving in Iraq who was accused of unlawfully killing an Iraqi in an arrest. After investigations by the Royal Military Police, the soldier's commanding officer decided he was not to blame for the killing and dismissed the charges against him. As a result, the case cannot be tried by court martial. However, the Army Prosecuting Authority considered the case required further consideration and referred it to the Attorney General. Since any British citizen can be tried in Britain for a murder or manslaughter committed abroad, it would still be possible for the soldier to stand trial at a Crown Court. Lord Goldsmith announced last month that, after further inquiries by Scotland Yard, the Crown Prosecution Service would decide whether the soldier should be prosecuted. Any decision to bring charges would cast doubt on the power of commanding officers to block a court martial in such cases. It emerged this week that MPs were misinformed about the number of civilian deaths, injuries or cases of alleged ill-treatment in Iraq being investigated by service police. Adam Ingram, the Defence Minister, said early last month that there were 33 cases, a figure subsequently confirmed by the Prime Minister. On Tuesday, Mr Ingram said the correct figure had been 61 cases. This has since risen to 75. Yesterday, Phil Shiner, the solicitor acting for alleged Iraqi victims of British troops, said: "Without an independent inquiry, we are not going to know how many soldiers were involved in these alleged incidents and how far up the chain of command it goes. "There must be no link between those inquiring and those being inquired of. A military investigation obviously is not independent in that way," he said on Radio 4. "What is needed here is a High Court judge to be appointed to look at all these deaths together." Last month Mr Shiner was granted permission by a High Court judge to bring a legal challenge against the MoD over claims that Iraqis had been killed unlawfully. A hearing has been fixed for the end of next month. The court will have to decide whether the Human Rights Act required the Government to investigate such killings. The ministry is expected to argue that the Act does not apply because southern Iraq is not under British jurisdiction. Remember - this article is written from a legal perspective. The start of a long & complicated discussion at high level methinks.