UK to opt out of European human rights convention in wartime
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UK to opt out of European human rights convention in wartime

Controversial plan to be unveiled at Conservative Party conference, aimed at halting ‘vexatious claims’ against British troops

British Defense Minister Michael Fallon talks to British pilots and soldiers at RAF Akrotiri, a British air base near the coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Pavlos Vrionides)
British Defense Minister Michael Fallon talks to British pilots and soldiers at RAF Akrotiri, a British air base near the coastal city of Limassol, Cyprus, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Pavlos Vrionides)

Britain’s Conservative Party government is planning to temporarily opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) during any future wars, in a move aimed at stemming “vexatious claims” of war crimes faced by its soldiers who fought in previous conflicts.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the plan drafted by Prime Minister Theresa May and Defense Secretary Michael Fallon will be unveiled Tuesday at the party’s annual conference in Birmingham.

The paper quoted May as saying the measure would “put an end to the industry of vexatious claims that has pursued those who served in previous conflicts.” Fallon also mentioned the plan ahead of his own address to the conference, saying that Britain’s “legal system has been abused to level false charges against our troops on an industrial scale.”

The suspension is known as a “presumption to derogate” from the ECHR in warfare, the Guardian said, adding that the British government has previously taken this step during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. The Council of Europe does allow for derogation from the ECHR, although certain central elements of the convention, such as the ban on torture, cannot be suspended.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at a hotel close to the International Convention Center in Birmingham, central England, on October 1, 2016 on the eve of the start of the ruling Conservative party annual conference. (AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS)
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at a hotel close to the International Convention Center in Birmingham, central England, on October 1, 2016 on the eve of the start of the ruling Conservative party annual conference. (AFP/Adrian Dennis)

The move has come under criticism from human rights groups, including Britain’s Liberty organization, which argued that the decision should only be taken in situations that directly threatened the life of the nation.

Liberty director Martha Spurrier also questioned the rationale behind the move, saying the majority of law suits brought against British soldiers were valid and related to sections of the ECHR that could not be derogated, such as the ban on torture.

Spurrier told the Guardian that Britain’s Defense Ministry “has been forced to settle hundreds of cases of abuse, which speaks to mistreatment on the battlefield that we should be trying to eradicate, not permit.” She said that derogating from the convention would “make us hypocrites on the international stage and embolden our enemies to capitalize on our double standards.”

The UK’s Law Society last month accused the British government of “attempting to undermine the rule of law by intimidating solicitors who pursue legitimate cases” against troops, the Guardian reported.

“Lawyers must not be hindered or intimidated in carrying out their professional duties and acting in the best interests of their clients within the law,” the society said in a September press release.

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