Government Faces Questions Over Soldiers' Exemption From ECHR

Parliamentary Committee Seeks Answers Over Plans To Suspend Human Rights Laws In Armed Conflicts

Parliament’s Joint Committee On Human Rights (JCHR) has written to the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, to request a detailed breakdown of the Government’s plans to exempt soldiers at war from the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a letter, the JCHR has set out a series of questions on the policy of a “presumption to derogate” from the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes a request for specific data on the number of “vexatious” claims against soldiers that the derogation aims to stop.

According to JCHR Chair Harriet Harman,

The Government’s case for derogating rests on a number of assertions which need to be rigorously tested.  We have written to the Government asking it a number of detailed questions which will enable us to scrutinise the Government’s claims about the necessity for taking such an exceptional step, and to help Parliament reach its own view about whether a derogation is justified.

The Committee is also seeking clarification on how the Government’s policy will satisfy the requirement set out in Article 15 of the Convention, which states that derogation can only be lawful in times of “war or emergency threatening the life of the nation”.

Human Rights And Soldiers Abroad


Soldiers themselves may also be put at risk if the rights contained in the Convention cease to apply to them at war. Several cases have shown that soldiers need the protections offered by the Convention, and that without human rights laws the soldiers and their families could not have sought justice. For example, the right to life enabled the family of Private Jason Smith to secure a full inquest into his death. The Committee has asked for clarification over the impact of the Government’s plans on the protection of British soldiers.

The assertion likely to come under the most intense scrutiny is Michael Fallon’s argument that human rights laws in the UK have been “abused to level false charges against our troops on an industrial scale”. This is a highly controversial topic in the wake of criticism of the conduct of certain members of the UK’s armed forces, arising out of several high-profile investigations such as the Iraq Fatalities Investigation, which condemned British troops’ involvement in the death of a 15-year-old Iraqi boy.

Other instances of alleged wrongdoing by British soldiers have found no evidence of misconduct by soldiers. The JCHR is looking to scrutinise whether such cases justify the Government’s proposed policy of derogating from the Convention in future armed conflicts.

Read the letter from the JCHR to the Defence Secretary here.

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About the Author

Daniel Charity

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Daniel is studying for an LLB in Law with French at the University of Leeds. He recently studied at the Université Lyon III for a year, studying French Law. He is interested in European Human Rights law, and the UK Constitution. View all posts by Daniel Charity.
Parliamentary Committee Seeks Answers Over Plans To Suspend Human Rights Laws In Armed Conflicts
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