LONDON—Britain's Court of Appeal on Tuesday backed a bid by more than 100 Iraqi civilians to force a public inquiry into claims they were abused by British troops.
Three appeals judges ordered the government to reconsider its decision not to hold public hearings into allegations of torture and degrading treatment by British soldiers and interrogators in southern Iraq.
The 128 claimants assert they were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation and other ill-treatment between March 2003 and December 2008 in British-controlled detention facilities.
The judges said the body set up by the British government to investigate claims of wrongdoing, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, "suffers from a lack of practical independence" because it includes members of the Royal Military Police, who may themselves be accused of wrongdoing.
The Ministry of Defense said it would "examine the judgment very carefully and consider next steps." It has until Nov. 30 to decide whether to try to challenge the ruling at the Supreme Court.
Britain's six-year military presence in southern Iraq, which ended in 2009, has spawned multiple allegations of torture and abuse. In the most notorious case, 26-year-old hotel receptionist Baha Mousa died while in custody at a British base after being detained in a raid in Basra in September 2003.
Britain's defense ministry later apologized for the mistreatment of Mousa and nine other Iraqis and paid a $4.8 million (3 million pound) settlement. Six soldiers were cleared of wrongdoing at a court martial, while a seventh pleaded guilty and served a year in jail.
The government says abuse was committed by only a few soldiers, but lawyers for the alleged victims say it was systemic.
Redress, a group that campaigns for torture victims, said the court had made the right decision.
"We now call on the government to set up a process which is sufficiently comprehensive and impartial to instill public confidence and to finally get to the bottom of the many allegations of abuse," said director Carla Ferstman.