The European Convention on Human Rights and the British Army

At the 2016 Conservative Party Conference, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed government plans to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in future armed conflicts in order to protect soldiers from “spurious” legal claims.

The briefing provides Labour MPs and members with some background to this issue, an overview of the relevant legal framework and the proposed derogation, and our suggestions for how to frame the debate when speaking to members of the public.

LCHR recommends highlighting three key points when speaking to constituents about this issue:

  • The UK is bound by other international and domestic standards to respect human rights in wartime. Derogating from the ECHR would not derogate from these other provisions, but it would send a clear message to the rest of the world that our commitment to human rights is weakening.
  • Our human rights laws have been used to protect and uphold the rights of soldiers serving abroad. Following the invasion of Iraq, the Ministry of Defence has been held to account for inadequate training and resource provision to the British Army and compensation has been paid to the families of victims. The removal of international human rights standards risks removing human rights protection for our troops.
  • Finally, we should be proud to have a military that respects human rights standards. It is key to the integrity of and respect for our Armed Forces. The government’s plans rest on the misguided view that our soldiers are not capable of or willing to abide by these standards and we must therefore remove them. The vast majority of members of the British Army are dedicated to maintaining these high standards and see it is part of their responsibility to remain humane whilst fighting against inhumanity.

We hope that this briefing will be helpful in light of the government’s proposal to derogate from the ECHR and their commitment to scrapping the Human Rights Act. To download in full click here.

What does the future hold for Afghan women?

The Fabian Society’s International Policy Group is hosting a panel discussion on what the future holds for Afghan women.

The Afghan Government still has a battle on its hands against the violations taking place across the country on its women and girls. The panel will discuss what the future looks like for Afghan women alongside increased insecurity across the country.

Chair: Baroness Glenys Kinnock
Orzala Ashraf Nemat
President Ashraf Ghani’s Advisor of Sub-national Governance.
Heather Barr
a Senior Researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, where she was previously the Afghanistan Researcher.
Quhramaana Kakar – a leading figure in Afghanistan working on women’s empowerment in areas of leadership development through political participation in peace-building.
Horia Mosadiq – an Afghan human rights activist, political analyst and journalist.

Thursday 3rd November, 18:30 – 20:00 

Register for free here.



From Stephen Lawrence to Hillsborough: the cases that show we can’t trust the state with mass surveillance


Please find a link to our latest briefing detailing our concerns with the IP Bill here.

This note addresses the state’s long history of misusing its surveillance powers and asks whether the police and intelligence agencies can really be trusted with mass surveillance. If an exception is necessary for the trade unions, there is strong reason to believe it is necessary for the many other groups who are vulnerable to state spying, not to mention the public at large.

LCHR recommend the following amendments:

• Removing the sections of the IPB proposing bulk retention of internet connection records and bulk equipment interference in their entirety.

• Replacing provisions for bulk communications intercept with targeted intercept only, abolishing the system of general warrants and replacing them with a system of individual warrants issued on the basis of reasonable suspicion.

We hope that this perspective will be helpful for Labour MPs, peers and party members as debate continues on the Investigatory Powers Bill.

Read the briefing in full here.

Should Labour have backed the IP Bill?

Earlier this week the Investigatory Powers Bill passed through the House of Commons with Labour’s support. The Bill will enshrine a series of surveillance powers into UK law, including bulk collection of everyone’s communications data. It will now go to the Lords for further consideration, and may be passed into law before the end of the year.

After months of wrangling with the government, Andy Burnham pointed to a range of concessions he managed to extract as the reason for his decision to support the Bill. These include a clause preventing the security services from spying on trade unions, an independent review into the necessity of the powers being proposed, and a more robust form of judicial oversight for surveillance warrants.

There is no doubt these concessions are a triumph for the shadow home affairs team – the product of a determined effort from Andy Burnham and Keir Starmer to ensure the Bill better protects privacy and is less likely to lead to abuses of power. In particular, Burnham was right to call the government’s concession on trade union spying a historic step. The Labour Campaign for Human Rights has long pointed to surveillance of the union movement as a clear reason why the government can’t be trusted with mass surveillance powers. Taking this out of the equation gives us cause to feel more confident about the Bill.

But as I thought more about it, my mind turned to the people who won’t get a special exception. What about the people who have too often been spied on or smeared by the police because they are considered a nuisance – Doreen Lawrence and her family, the Hillsborough families, environmental activists, even Amnesty International. All these have been victims of abuses of power by the security services or police, and none would have been covered by the exceptions Labour has managed to negotiate into the Bill.

And what about the general public? Where is their special protection from abuse of surveillance powers. What about the millions of webcam images collected by GCHQ without people’s permission? What about the fact that GCHQ collects over 40 billion communication events per day, the vast majority of which are from ordinary people who have done nothing wrong?

Of course, MPs have their own exception to the IP Bill’s provisions. If an MP is going to be subject to surveillance, the Bill requires the prime minister’s permission first. But no one else gets this special treatment.

Again, Labour should only be congratulated for securing protection for trade unions. But if it’s good enough for union leaders and MPs, why not for the rest of us? Or, put a different way, if the security services can’t be trusted not to spy on politicians and union officials without good reason, why are they trusted not to spy on ordinary people? Recent history tells us they’re only too happy to misuse their powers.

The shadow home affairs team deserve our praise for extracting so many concessions from the government. But I hope they also reflect on why those changes were needed, and whether the state can ever be trusted with such draconian powers – no matter how many exceptions you make. A vote against would have been a safer bet for privacy and human rights; and the independent review into the Bill’s necessity may yet show it would have been a safer bet for our security as well.

Whatever the case, the debate isn’t over yet.

Andrew Noakes is Director of LCHR

The Human Rights Argument for Remaining in the EU

This note addresses two key questions. Firstly, it briefly addresses the widespread confusion surrounding Europe and human rights in general. Secondly, it provides examples of areas where the EU has been hugely instrumental in the promotion of human rights, not just in the UK, but across Europe.

We hope that it will be a valuable tool for the Remain campaign to ensure that arguments about the human rights benefits of remaining in the EU are not pushed to one side.

Read the briefing in full here.