PM Cameron is facing a direct legal challenge over a new version of the ministerial code which has been produced and which omits a previous reference to UK ministers being bound by International Law.
On behalf of ‘Rights Watch’, lawyers are demanding that the previous version be reinstated, and ‘Rights Watch’ is beginning legal proceedings. Rights Watch states: ‘Until it was amended, The Ministerial Code used to refer, in its opening paragraphs, to an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including International Law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.
‘That duty to comply with International Law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of Justice has been deleted from the code.’ It adds: ‘This amendment clearly signals a marked shift in the UK government’s commitment to complying with international law.
‘This is particularly worrying at a time when the UK government is expanding its use of lethal force abroad in circumstances that are legally questionable and then they have made it very clear of their intention to water down the Human Rights Act.’
Yasmine Allan, Director of Rights Watch, adds: ‘There are numerous obligations at international law, including for instance those obligations governing the use of force set out in the UN Charter, which have not necessarily been incorporated into domestic law, but which it is only proper that ministers should be explicitly required to comply with when exercising their powers.’
Some leading lawyers believe the change could end any ministerial respect for the rule of law and affect decisions about declaring war or using military force such as drones, in Syria or bombing Syria, or even sending ground forces.
It could also reduce respect for judgements by international courts on, for example, contentious human rights issues. Domestically, the UK already has the most surveyed and spied on population on the planet. An assault on international and EU human rights legislation is the next step for the government so as to be able to jail and spy on who it likes, for what it likes, i.e. on ‘suspicion’ of whatever it considers constitutes a ‘threat’.
This is why Philippe Sands QC has called the change ‘shocking’ and ‘another slap to Magna Carta and the idea of the rule of law’. As well, it will allow the PM to continue cuddling up to his very reactionary friends in the Gulf without any restraint.
The Saudi ambassador to the UK is currently complaining that Labour leader Corbyn is saying that his human rights protests to the government resulted in a UK prison building programme for Saudi Arabia being cancelled.
Abolishing the human rights legislation, and the need for international legality, as far as the UK is concerned, will allow the government to ignore Saudi whippings and beatings and beheadings and crucifictions and certainly not allow them to get in the way of trade.
Similarly the US and the Saudi regime have decided to step up the arming of the Free Syrian Army for their war on President Assad, at a time when the Free Syrian Army has decided not to work with Russian forces in Syria and to demand that they leave the country.
Very soon, the UK parliament will be asked, or even be bypassed by a UK government decision, to bomb Syria and send ground forces to ‘train’ the anti-Assad Islamists. The government will be able to argue that Britain no longer requires to have the support of the UN Security Council on this issue.
There is no doubt that the removal of UK ministers being bound by international law, including human rights legislation, is part of the government’s war on democratic rights at home and on anti-imperialist governments abroad.
As a matter of extreme urgency the Labour Party and all of the trade unions must take action to demand that the former Ministerial Code of Responsibility be restored at once, as part of the struggle to defend basic rights in the UK and to stop the war on Syria.