Iraq court martial reporting ban lifted by judge

The fact that a soldier has served in Iraq is not a sufficient reason to justify imposing reporting restrictions if he subsequently appears at a court martial, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The statement was made this week as a Judge Advocate dealt with an application from a consortium of news organisations aimed at overturning an order which had banned the media from identifying any one of nine soldiers facing charges over allegations that guns were smuggled out of Iraq and traded for cash and drugs.

Judge Advocate Colin Burn imposed the ban – described as an interim order – on 6 November, after a request from one of the soldiers, who is still covered by its anonymity provisions.

The order he had made banned naming any of the men, or giving any description which would help people identify them. They could be referred to only by rank and regiment. It also banned the use of photographs and the men’s addresses or the areas of the country from which they came.

All the accused men are from the 3rd Battalion of the Yorkshire regiment, based at Warminster in Wiltshire.

But on Tuesday, after hearing from barrister Antony Hudson, representing the media groups, and Khawar Qureshi QC, for the Ministry of Defence, Burn lifted the identification ban in relation to eight of the men.

The ninth, a sergeant, is still covered by the order while the Ministry investigates his claim that he or his family will be at risk if he is identified.

Qureshi supported the application – made by news organisations including The Times, Mirror Group Newspapers, the BBC, ITN, BSkyB, Guardian Newspapers and the Press Association – when it was heard at the Military Courts Centre in Colchester, Essex.

He told Judge Advocate Burn: “The MoD does not consider that the fact of an individual having served in Iraq is of itself sufficient to warrant the restrictions.”

There was a question mark over the position of the sergeant, which was being investigated, he said.

But in relation to the other eight, the restrictions imposed were “neither proper, necessary or justified”, and should be discontinued, he said.

Although the judge lifted the ban on names and pictures in relation to eight of the men, Judge Advocate Burn made an order prohibiting publication of their personal addresses.

The nine soldiers are due to face a series of court martial hearings from next month.

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