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Britain’s surrender of sovereignty – the rule of lawyers

  • June 22nd, 2013

I've mentioned being surprised when catching up on the current state of Parliamentary sovereignty for the Green Party, at how far it had eroded in the UK.

This week's Spectator mentions briefly another case in which the UK Supreme Court has drawn on EU jurisprudence to over-ride traditional UK Crown prerogatives, in this case 'combat immunity'. I'll reserve reading the judgment until I have more time, but the article says it confirms that courts can investigate whether the state has taken enough care of its service-people exposed in combat, by way of training, equipment procurement and planning. The right or duty on the courts to second-guess those contentious issues of military spending is described as:

"… a politically far-reaching decision. The Court was asked to consider whether British military personnel on active duty overseas are under the jurisdiction of the European Convention of Human Rights. If they are, then the British state has a duty to secure the human rights of its overseas personnel (specifically their right to life under article 2 of the Convention) as if they were at home."

But the article's two sentence closing comment demands more consideration by judges before they feel too smug about second guessing political and official priorities.

"But there’s one final point to make: drones and machines are not subject to the Convention (at least where article 2 is concerned). In its way, this judgment is likely to change the way that government defends its citizens and interests."

In short, those who could be liable will decide it is better to fire missiles at strangers from afar, if the alternative is to risk the pious hindsight of lawyers and judges who've never been in combat, or had to face an electorate that demands both guns and butter.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the own-goal outcomes of high-minded human rights lawyering, as it drove the search for Al-Queda operatives. I said it would create opportunities for mercenaries to quell Somali piracy. Six months later I was able to say "I told you so" on the basis of an Economist article. I understand from a New Zealander with links to some of the New Zealand mercenaries now profitably engaged in the business, that the piracy risk is diminishing.

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