The Law Society has described proposals to opt out of international human rights agreements in future conflicts "misguided" and said that it risks "stripping people - including British troops - of their rights". The proposals have been made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) during their consultation on derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in future conflicts.
Law Society President, Robert Bourns, said:
The proposal to opt out of an international human rights agreement to prevent false legal claims is not only disproportionate, it is dangerous.
This could stop genuine claims ever being heard and would undermine hard-won international accords that protect our most fundamental shared values.
Even claims for negligence brought by our own armed forces against the Ministry of Defence, for instance for providing inadequate equipment, could be blocked.
In no other area of law would it even be considered that all cases be shut down in order to prevent false claims or save money. It is the role of the justice system to determine the merit of each case, a function that is and must remain separate from government.
Moreover, the right to access to justice for all depends on everyone being represented within our framework of laws, no matter how they or their case may be perceived by the public, media or government.
Article 15 of the ECHR allows for signatories to opt out (derogate) of the convention in time of emergency and "when the life of the nation is threatened". Thus, an intention to derogate in future, unknown, circumstances - as proposed by the government - is either spin as it restates an already agreed position, or it is premature because derogation requires certain perilous conditions as yet unmet. It is unlikely that a future conflict such as the ones that took place in Iraq or Afganistan, for instance, would fall within the remit of Article 15.
Robert Bourns added:
Britain’s recognition of human rights and the rule of law is respected across the world. We must not forego these guiding principles in order to tackle a small number of false claims.
If the UK is seen to reinterpret international conventions unilaterally, we risk undermining our standing internationally, our ability to hold other states to account and we will disrupt a far wider culture of international cooperation that has been built over many years.