UK Human Rights Blog

“British Troops to be Exempted from Human Rights Law” the headline of the leading article in The Times today.

Theresa May vows to end ‘vexatious claims’ against service personnel. In the UK about £100 million has been spent since 2004 dealing with thousands of cases lodged against soldiers who served in Iraq. Many were launched under ECHR laws on rights to life and liberty.

Apparently the Prime Minister will announce today that under proposals she has put forward, Britain plans to opt out of international human rights law when it goes to war. British troops will be free to take “difficult decisions” on the battlefield without fear of legal action when they come home. This move follows an outcry over investigations into thousands of claims against soldiers by a government body examining alleged human rights abuses in Iraq. Mrs May said that the plan would

put an end to the industry of vexatious claims that has pursued those who served in previous conflicts.

Britain will put in place temporary derogations against parts of the Convention before planned military actions.

Since the Convention has been extended to cover actions by soldiers outside the jurisdiction of the UK and other signatory states, many senior officers have warned that operations will be undermined by soldiers wary of taking risks.

Over the past years Article 2 of the Convention, which imposes upon a state the duty to refrain from unlawful deprivation of life, to investigate suspicious deaths and prevent avoidable deaths, has been extended the reach of human rights to British troops in Iran and Afghanistan, and has been applied to military action, which inevitably has the consequences of death. Some argue that whilst soldiers should adhere to the Geneva Convention, the Human Rights Convention has no place in the fog of war. A report by the former military assistant to the chief of the defence staff Tom Tugendhat indicated in 2013 that the effects of human rights law were already harming the country’s defences.

Writing in The Times Letters page, Lord Brown, former Supreme Court Justice, agrees that armed conflict should be governed by international humanitarian law (the Geneva Convention), not by human rights law.

Incidentally, is it not bizarre that our own troops in, for example, Iraq or Afghanistan should be subject to the ECHR when those of our allies such as the United States obviously are not? (Letters, Friday September 30 2016)

Lord Brown goes on to say that he would support legislation designed to deal “more appropriately” with complaints and claims arising out of armed conflict, including claims by our own forces against the Ministry of Defence.

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