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Inquiry into misconduct allegations by British soldiers in Afghanistan

After years of legal battles by human rights groups and victims’ families, the long-awaited public inquiry into allegations of misconduct by British soldiers during the war in Afghanistan has taken a significant step closer to reality. The inquiry, which will examine claims of unlawful killings and mistreatment of detainees, headed by Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, a judge with extensive experience in conducting inquiries, had its preliminary hearing today in London at the Royal Courts of Justice

The public inquiry has set out to determine the truth of allegations of unlawful killings and mistreatment of detainees by British soldiers during the Afghanistan conflict, to assess the extent to which they were known to the relevant authorities, and to recommend measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in future conflicts.

Given the sensitive nature of the allegations, the inquiry is likely to provoke controversy and potentially uncover uncomfortable truths about the conduct of British soldiers in Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, the inquiry is a crucial step towards greater transparency and accountability in the conduct of British military operations overseas. It represents an opportunity to hold those responsible for any wrongdoing to account and to ensure that the human rights of detainees and civilians are protected in future conflicts.

Guided by the terms of reference set out in the Inquiries Act 2005, the public inquiry claimed it would be conducted with the utmost impartiality and independence, with the judge committed to ensuring that all parties are given a fair hearing.

That Act stipulates that the public should have access to inquiry hearings and evidence, and as such, the judge warned the inquiry may be subject to potentially controversial applications for restriction orders. These orders could potentially restrict public and core participant access to certain documents and proceedings.

In preparation for this eventuality, a proposed timetable has been agreed upon by the interested parties. The Ministry of Defence and other state parties will serve their applications for topics that ought to be subject to a restriction order by May 23rd, 2023. Any non-state parties and the media will then have until June 20th to respond to any application for a restriction order, and by the end of June, Counsel to the Inquiry will serve a note on the applications to all core participants.

An open hearing will then take place in early July, during which oral submissions may be made in relation to restriction orders and special advocates.

While the order in which evidence will be called is currently unclear, the Inquiry team has made arrangements for hearing rooms to be made available for use throughout the remainder of the year, in anticipation of receiving evidence from witnesses in October 2023. All core participants have been invited to provide details of those witnesses they believe may have relevant evidence to give. The Inquiry will publish a witness protocol document on its website, outlining relevant time limits and any proposed line of questioning for a witness.

The public inquiry is a testament to the determination and perseverance of journalists, human rights groups and victims’ families, who have fought for years to secure a public inquiry into these allegations. Their efforts have helped to bring these allegations to light and ensure that those responsible are held accountable for any wrongdoing.

Iain Overton, the director of AOAV, said: “This inquiry is long overdue and represents a significant step towards ensuring justice and accountability for the many Afghans who suffered during the conflict.” Overton added that the inquiry must be “thorough, impartial and transparent, and that those responsible for any wrongdoing must be held accountable.”

The inquiry’s findings are likely to have far-reaching implications, not just for the military but for the wider political landscape as well. If evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered, it could lead to calls for compensation for victims and for those responsible to be held accountable. It could also lead to a broader debate about the role of the armed forces in overseas conflicts and the need for greater oversight and accountability of Special Forces regiments.