The Human Rights Act – which incorporates into UK law the European Convention on Human Rights – both binds and protects our armed forces.
It was the European Convention on Human Rights that forced the UK Government to repeal its discriminatory policy of banning LGBT people from service, in 2000.
It was the Human Rights Act that led our Supreme Court to rule that the Ministry of Defence had a legal obligation to protect our troops when it sent them on overseas operations, by taking reasonable steps to provide them with appropriate equipment for the job.
The Human Rights Act has enabled bereaved military families to uncover the truth about how their loved ones died, by enabling Coroners to hold ‘Article 2’ inquests which allow the wider circumstances of a death to be investigated.
In this way, the families of the young trainees that died at Deepcut barracks were able to expose the bullying, abusive and neglectful practices that had characterised the camp where their children died; the family of Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement was able to expose the bullying and ostracisation their sister had suffered, after she had reported rape – a case which led to important policy improvements; and the families of L/Cpls James Ross and Darren Mitchell were able to reveal the mental health crises and other problems affecting their sons after they returned from Afghanistan. Numerous other families have similar stories to tell. But for the Human Rights Act, these investigations would simply not have taken place.
The European Convention on Human Rights has required there to be minimal procedural protections when our forces detain people during overseas operations and has required there to be effective independent investigations on those rare cases where British troops are accused of abusing detainees, such as in the case of Baha Mousa.
It was the Human Rights Act that Joe Ousalice, the LGBT+ naval veteran, used to compel the Ministry of Defence to return the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal it had taken from him when it threw him out of the Navy because of his sexuality. His legal challenge also led to a change in policy that now means that all other LGBT+ affected veterans can apply to have their medals restored. His Human Rights Act case has shone a spotlight on this very neglected veteran community.
The CMJ advises service women every day that have suffered sexual assaults or harassment on how they can use the Human Rights Act to secure some form of justice or accountability. These women are relying upon Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to insist upon effective investigations and to seek justice where that has not happened.
These and so many other cases demonstrate the benefit of the Human Rights Act to service personnel. Amending or restricting the scope of the Human Rights Act would be a grave mistake, undermining the rule of law and limiting access to justice for all people, included service personnel. The CMJ strongly opposes any such proposal.
The Independent Human Rights Act Review has been established to consider whether change is needed. It has accepted written submissions from a wide range of individuals, charities, lawyers and NGOs.
The submission from the Centre for Military Justice, can be downloaded here: