Hundreds of suspected Taliban fighters once held by British troops in Afghanistan could sue for compensation following an Appeal Court ruling that Britain broke the Human Rights Act when holding suspects.
The Government attacked the “ludicrous” finding it had been wrong to hold suspects for longer than 96 hours, as it lost an appeal against an earlier ruling its detention policy during the war was illegal.
A panel of senior judges led by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice, backed a ruling from last year that Britain acted unlawfully when it held Serdar Mohammed, an Afghan farmer and suspected bomb maker, for 110 days without charge.
Mr Mohammed, from the Kajaki district of Helmand was seized in a 2010 British operation which saw two insurgents killed and several soldiers wounded.
Penny Mordaunt, minister for the Armed Forces, said the Government was “extremely disappointed” with the judgment and would try to appeal in the Supreme Court.
She said: “We were right to detain Serdar Mohammed who we believed to be involved in the production of improvised explosive devices on an industrial scale.
“During his capture our troops came under heavy fire, and 3 of them were wounded. The notion that dangerous insurgents cannot be detained for more than a few hours is ludicrous.”
The ruling is the latest to show the Human Rights Act extends to cover British military operations abroad. The Conservatives have said they will axe the Act and replace it with a new Bill of Rights including exemptions for the military fighting overseas.
She said: "Our Armed Forces must be able to detain enemies who attempt to maim and kill UK service personnel and civilians. If the law does not allow that then the law must change.”
The Ministry of Defence fears Thursday’s ruling will pave the way for large numbers of compensation claims from Afghans held under the same policy.
Leigh Day, the law firm which bought the case, said it already had around 80 similar cases in the pipeline.
Sapna Malik, partner at the firm, said: "On the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta establishing that imprisonment should not occur without due legal process, the Court of Appeal's unanimous judgment is vitally important in upholding the rule of law even in the most trying of circumstances.
"The Lord Justices have rightly recognised the fundamental importance of the right to liberty, which requires a lawful authority for any detention and for core procedural safeguards to be afforded to a detainee, even in a situation of armed conflict."