The Armed Forces Bill


SAS member Ben Griffin was allowed to leave the military after declaring to his superior officer that he was not prepared to return to Iraq.  Malcolm Kendall-Smith, an RAF doctor, was not so fortunate.  As reported in a recent KPN, after his refusal to serve in Iraq, he was not allowed to resign, but was court-marshalled, fined, and sentenced to 8 months in prison.

The Iraq war is as unpopular with soldiers as it is with civilians.  According to the BBC website at least 1,000 troops have ‘deserted’ since the start of the Iraq war.

Against this background, the Armed Forces Bill is currently before parliament.  It is proposed that severe penalties are to be imposed on soldiers who refuse to take part in military occupations.  Section 8, which has not had much media attention, introduces a tougher definition of desertion:  those refusing to take part in a military occupation of a foreign country can be imprisoned for life.  It seems the forces are to be prepared for 21st century wars, pre-emptive wars involving long-term demands, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The human rights group Liberty points out that this review of the Bill should take the opportunity to reform the structure of courts-martial so as to comply with the 1998 Human Rights Act. They say that clause 23 of the new Bill seeks to change the present system, whereby a member of the armed forces may apply for judicial review in the civil courts against certain charges of a criminal nature. They advise the creation of an impartial tribunal to bring military justice into line with civilian standards.  Indeed, without such a provision, the new Bill is bound to be challenged in Court at once, as legal oversight of laws passed in parliament is still the fashion in Britain. 

Liberty asks that you please check with your MP that he is aware of these defects.

Of course the best solution to the problem of personnel refusing to serve would be to make sure that Britain is not dragged into any more illegal wars.