(Edited from AP, London) Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a plan to offer troops at war protection under human rights law, saying the policy could leave military commanders concerned more about legal issues than enemy fire.

Six of nine justices overturned a lower court decision that the Human Rights Act should apply to soldiers everywhere – even if they are involved in overseas combat. The court said human rights legislation was never intended to apply to forces fighting on foreign soil.

(Edited from AP, London) Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a plan to offer troops at war protection under human rights law, saying the policy could leave military commanders concerned more about legal issues than enemy fire.

Six of nine justices overturned a lower court decision that the Human Rights Act should apply to soldiers everywhere – even if they are involved in overseas combat. The court said human rights legislation was never intended to apply to forces fighting on foreign soil.

Activists had hoped having the troops subject to the human rights act would strengthen the ability of soldiers or their next of kin to sue the government in cases where deaths and injuries may have been caused by faulty or missing equipment, like defective body armor.

Justice Alan Rodger said in the ruling that “deaths and injuries are inevitable,” in battle.

“To suggest that these deaths and injuries can always, or even usually, be seen as the result of some failure to protect the soldiers… is to depreciate the bravery of the men and women who face these dangers,” he said.

Britain’s military had argued that it couldn’t guarantee the same protection for troops patrolling an Afghan market, as it does to those working in bases or training in the U.K.

Ministry lawyer James Eadie had argued that that earlier ruling would likely impact on tactical decisions made by commanders in combat situations – who would find the added burden of considering the legal implications of their choices.

“This outcome is not about denying rights to our people, it is about ensuring that we have a clear and workable set of rules under which they can carry out their demanding and dangerous work,” said Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, head of the British armed forces.

A total of 309 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since operations there began in 2001, and about 400 seriously injured. During the Iraq war, 179 U.K. troops died, with 222 seriously injured.

The ruling centered on a case related to the death of Pvt. Jason Smith, 32, who died of heatstroke on a British Army base while serving in Iraq in 2003.

Smith, a reservist, repeatedly told medics he felt unwell due to soaring temperatures which topped 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). He later suffered a heart attack and was found dead.

An inquest into Smith’s death found the military failed to address the difficulty he had in adjusting to Iraq’s climate. A second inquest – which will consider whether his human rights were violated – has already been ordered by a lower court. The Supreme Court agreed that was required in Smith’s case, but won’t be needed for all military deaths.

Jocelyn Cockburn, who represented Smith’s mother, Catherine, called the Supreme Court’s ruling “astonishing,” arguing that troops expect the government to abide by British laws anywhere the military was deployed.

“It can only be hoped that the morale of soldiers who are risking their lives for us will not be severely damaged by this astonishing finding.”

Justices said it was unlikely when European human rights legislation was drafted after World War II that it was “regarded as desirable or practicable” to be applied to troops overseas, but that issue should be resolved at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Hans Born, a fellow at the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, said European human rights law was subject to a clause stating that some protections can be restricted on the grounds of national security.

“Normally that would justify the limitations of the rights of soldiers,” Born said. “That’s the common practice of all EU states.”

Cockburn suggested that the wider issue, though not Smith’s specific case, could eventually be heard at Europe’s Court of Human Rights, to settle the issue of the event to which troops should be legally protected.

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