Human rights ruling on British troops ‘could compromise operations’

June 2, 2009 at 3:57 pm Leave a comment

MOD

The Defence Secretary has said he is considering an appeal to the House of Lords over a recent High Court ruling.

The court ruled that the Human Rights Act applies to British Armed Forces personnel, even in battle, and the right to life provision means the Ministry of Defence has a legal duty to provide the proper equipment.

At Defence Questions yesterday John Hutton said the ruling “could open the door to routine legal challenges against the Ministry of Defence to decisions made by service personnel entrusted with the conduct of operations.”

He said the Chief of the Defence Staff “has made these concerns clear in his own message to the armed forces.”

Mr Hutton said: “My real concern is whether we can stand aside and see bold decision making by battlefield commanders inhibited by anxiety about a legal process over which they will have no say and no control.

“Those are very serious matters. We have a clear duty of care to our soldiers, sailors and airmen, which we intend to discharge fully, but the case raises a set of issues that are complicated and fundamental.”

Tory MP Andrew Robathan said the problem “is one of the government’s own making, through their human rights legislation.

“There is no greater breach of human rights than being shot on the battlefield—and that is what we expect our soldiers to go out and risk.

“What exactly are the government planning to do, beyond appeal? If the law stands, will not the government have to change it to rectify the situation?”

Mr. Hutton said if the appeal to the House of Lords failed that “would pose us a serious problem, which would have to be addressed.

“I personally do not believe that the framers of the European convention had it in mind when it was drafted that it would ever apply to soldiers in a battlefield situation,” he said.

“If I am wrong, and if the House of Lords took a different decision if we appealed, Ministers would have to consider seriously the position that would then arise.”

The Defence Secretary rejected criticism from Tory MP Andrew Murrison that the government “were falling over themselves to incorporate the European convention on human rights into the Human Rights Act.”

Mr Hutton replied:

“With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that the solution to the problem is to repeal the Human Rights Act.

“The European convention was always justiciable through the route of the European Court of Human Rights, so that would be a false path to tread. The problem has arisen because of subsequent interpretations of the parameters of the convention, not because of the Human Rights Act.”

The Minister for the Armed Forces, Bob Ainsworth, answered questions on the upsurge in piracy in the Horn of Africa.

He told MPs that there has been a “big increase” in naval vessels from EU and other nations patrolling the shipping lanes in the area.

“Even though most of those other nations are not prepared to fall under the command of others, they are more than happy to co-operate and ensure that what is being done is properly co-ordinated and therefore most effective,” he said.

“There is also a big operation involving the exchange of information from the United Kingdom in Northwood to ensure that we can pass information between nations safely and securely, so as best to attack the problem of piracy.

“Piracy is a real problem around the horn of Africa, but it will not be solved entirely in the maritime area.”

He paid tribute to the Kenyan government both for assisting and “for being prepared, in some circumstances, to bring those accused of piracy to justice in the Kenyan legal system.”

Mr Ainsworth said the Royal Navy “in any circumstances … can always defend itself if it comes under attack.”

“We will take robust action, and we are also helping with the biggest single effort being made at the moment—the co-ordination of the many different nations operating in the area,” he added.

“There are Russian and Chinese ships in the area, as well as those of NATO countries, and they are all prepared to co-operate and to co-ordinate their activities. The Royal Navy has provided a superb facility in assisting and enabling that co-operation to take place.”

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