23 October 2010

Sue, Grabbit and Run

Private Eye's apocryphal firm of solicitors has a rival in the Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), one of whom gives us the benefit of his fine legal mind in a Guardian article today.
My firm is acting for many Iraqi civilians killed or tortured by UK forces. Some died from indiscriminate attacks on civilians or from the unjustified use of lethal force. Others have been killed in custody – the most notable being Baha Mousa who died after sustaining 93 separate injuries.
So far so good. The treatment of Baha Mousa was a stench in the nostrils of humanity and those involved should have gone down for it. Paying off the family was not enough, although it is understandable that a public interest firm should wish to cover its costs.
There is a huge body of evidence about killings, ill-treatment and torture of Iraqis while in custody with UK forces. We act for hundreds of Iraqis who complain of being subjected to deeply disturbing coercive interrogation techniques at the hands of a secret squad of UK interrogators. Insofar as the logs add to this body of evidence, it will help us to gain a single public inquiry into the UK's detention policy.
Aha. Now we're talking serious money. I look forward to learning what a non-disturbing, non-coercive interrogation technique might be. "Insofar" as the logs relate to the actions of US troops, is this fine legal mind talking about guilt by association? Yup.
We also act for families in Falluja, where there has been an alarming increase in the rate of birth defects since the attacks [by US forces] on the city in November 2004. Such is the concern from the medical profession that parents are being warned not to have children because of the risks. It is suggested by many professionals that the health problems plaguing the population have been caused by the weapons systems used by coalition forces during the attacks. The UK provided material assistance to the US [that's a laugh] and bears a heavy responsibility to answer and address this emerging public health crisis. A case on behalf of those parents will be lodged at the high court in London shortly.
By the same token, it might be suggested by many professionals that PIL are international ambulance-chasers seeking maximum publicity for their claims in the hope that the British government will settle out of court to avoid the expense and embarrassment of defending the actions not only of their own but of their allies' troops.

Human Rights used to be a noble cause. It has been shamefully devalued by the political selectivity of the main international human rights organisations and by the naked opportunism of allegedly public interest lawyers who somehow only find it in the public interest to take on high profile, "deep pocket" cases.

PIL, no doubt, is an exception to the general rule. But it should perhaps be more careful not to seem like a money-grubbing organization making tenuous accusations in the hope that some of them will prove profitable.

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