Last week at the Conservative Party conference Michael Fallon announced that in future armed conflicts Britain would seek exemption from the European Court of Human Rights.
This marks an important shift in policy as in previous conflicts the armed forces have had to implement the ECHR on the battlefield which has been proven to be far from easy and has been described as ‘grossly inappropriate’ by many who have had to undertake the task.
Indeed, former army officer now Conservative Party MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer said that: ‘For me nothing really personified the gap between Politicians and those who serve this country more than trying to apply European Human Rights Law on operations, it demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of what we are asking our soldiers to do.’ As a long and often lone standing champion of scrapping European Human Rights law on the battlefield much of this success must be attributed to Johnny, and the armed forces are lucky to have such an eloquent advocate of their cause in parliament.
The main grievance that soldiers have found with the ECHR is that there are situations involved in combat where you cannot implement the rules and keep yourself safe at the same time, one has got to give and thankfully it appears that this country has now decided to put the safety of our soldiers first.
Michael Fallon also announced, perhaps even more importantly, that a further 1000 cases put forward by The Iraq Historical Allegations Team (IHAT) will be thrown out of the courts by January.
IHAT was set up by the Gordon Brown administration to deal with allegations by Iraqi citizens of military misconduct during the 2003-2009 Iraq War; however, it has come under heavy criticism.
Particular criticism has been aimed at the funding of IHAT which seems to encourage the firm that holds the government contract to bring as many cases forward as possible in order to make the biggest profit.
Indeed, some 3000 claims have been brought forward, however as yet there have been no prosecutions, leading to many naming IHAT an ‘Industry of vexatious allegations’.
The problem with this runs much deeper than just a huge waste in public money; it is the affect it has had on those soldiers that have been put on trial.
Now although many are too proud to admit it, veterans actually make up one of the most mentally vulnerable groups in our society, with many deeply scarred by the scenarios experienced during their period of service.
It could therefore be argued that the last thing they need is to be subject to what has been described as a legal ‘witch hunt’ which could explain why, in 2013, more servicemen killed themselves than were killed in operational service in defence of the realm, a highly regrettable statistic.
Now while this announcement is widely seen as a welcomed step in the right direction, there will be further pressure put on Michael Fallon’s government by the critics of IHAT (which include the former prime minister who took us into the Iraq War – Tony Blair) to close the industry and the Afghanistan equivalent down for good.
The basis for many of the claims against soldiers has been breaches of the European Human Rights Law and these can include things as trivial as putting a bag over a hostages’ head or extremely low level violence against suspected enemies.
Prime Minister Theresa May vowed never to let this sort of mistreatment of our soldiers take place again saying: ‘We will never again, in future conflicts, let those activist, left wing, human rights lawyers harang and harass the bravest of the brave, the men and women of our armed forces’ leading to one of only two standing ovations during her conference speech.
photo credit: Palm dogg
photo credit2: By Leonard J. DeFrancisci, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10317145
photo credit 3: DonkeyHotey