UK Government plan to exclude armed forces from human rights laws

UK Government plan to exclude armed forces from human rights laws


Defence secretary Philip Hammond has indicated that he is prepared to introduce legislation to prevent what he calls the ‘encroachment of judicial processes’ into the armed forces.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Philip Hammond said current cases involving the military are potentially hampering operations.

Families were given the right to sue the Ministry of Defence following Smith and Others v Ministry of Defence [2012], known as the Snatch Land Rover case, when the Supreme Court ruled that British troops remain within the UK jurisdiction and so fall under the Human Rights Act.

A subsequent report, entitled Fog of War, by the thinktank Policy Exchange subsequently warned the armed forces risked being ‘paralysed’ by a sustained legal assault that could have ‘catastrophic consequences’ for the safety of the nation.

Hammond has now indicated he is sympathetic to that point of view and is ready to change the law to support it. ‘There are issues about the encroachment of judicial processes into the operation of the armed forces,’ he said.

‘A number of cases currently before the courts, or pending, could have a significant impact, and we are watching them closely. We are clear that once we commit our armed forces to combat, they must be able to carry out operations without fear of constant review in the civil courts. If we find that the current cases develop in a way that makes that difficult, we will come back to the House with proposals to remedy the situation.’

The Policy Exchange report said 5,827 claims were brought against the MoD in 2012/13 with an average £70,000 paid to the 205 people who made successful claims.

According to the report, the main weapon used in legal challenges to UK military operations is the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1998 Human Rights Act.

At the Conservative Party conference in September 2-13 home secretary Theresa May said the Conservatives were prepared to withdraw from the ECHR entirelyn and the Prime Minister, David Cameron has pledged this to be put to a vote if the Conservatives win the next election outright. However Human Rights groups and lawyers are gravely concerned that these proposals effectively put the armed forces outside the scope of international law and fail to provide any ‘checks and balances’ against the actions of the State. This would particularly be at a time when it is crucially important to know that our armed forces are acting with the highest possible regard for human rights and the Rule of Law, at a time which would otherwise be marred with conflict.