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Penny Mordant must not put soldiers above the law

UK soldiers in training

Penny Mordant must not put soldiers above the law

The Peace Pledge Union have insisted that armed forces personnel must be subject to the same laws that other people have to follow. 

Their comments follow the news that the UK's new "Defence" Secretary, Penny Morduant, plans to introduce a presumption against prosecution when it comes to allegations of crimes committed by British armed forces personnel, if they relate to events more than ten years ago outside the UK. Morduant said that such prosecutions could go ahead only in "exceptional" circumstances, but it is unclear what this is intended to mean. 

The Peace Pledge Union said that the plan would undermine impartial justice and further militarise society.

However, they added that politicans and generals must be held to account for their actions in relation to war, not only low-ranking soldiers accused of crimes. 

Penny Morduant also threatened to remove the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights in times of war. The Convention covers nearly every country in Europe, not only members of the European Union. 

Moduant's announcement seems to be an attempt to curry favour with the militarist lobby and pro-war press. It has already backfired, as militarist campaigners are angry that the policy does not cover alleged crimes within the UK, including Northern Ireland.

The armed forces are already the only organisations in the UK who are legally allowed to conduct their own criminal trials. They also maintain their own police forces. 

Ironically, the policy was revealed on the morning of International Conscientious Objectors' Day (15 May 2019). 

Peace Pledge Union spokesperson Symon Hill said:

"It is vital that we are all subject to the same laws. This is a basic principle of a fair and democratic society. Everyone should have the same rights under the law and the same responsibilities under the law. Armed forces personnel, like civilians, have a right to a fair trial and a right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. They should also expect to face prosecution if there is evidence to suggest that they have committed a crime. 

"From the way that militarists have ranted in the pro-war press lately, you would think that convictions of armed forces personnel were a regular occurrence. They are not. On the rare occasions when they do happen, it tends to be the most low-ranking individuals who are convicted. Predictably, the generals, ministers and arms dealers are almost never held to account for their actions, whether legal or illegal. 

"Penny Morduant talks about the needs of military veterans but has little to say about the 13,000 veterans estimated to be living homeless in the UK, or those suffering from cuts to disability benefits and mental health services. The human cost of war is conveniently ignored by those who talk of supporting the armed forces."