October 23, 2015Impunity Accountability and Access to Justice
On Thursday last week the government quietly published an amended version of the Ministerial Code. The Ministerial Code sets out the standard of conduct expected of government ministers in the United Kingdom and serves as an important accountability check on the actions of Government Ministers; the Prime Minister can fire ministers that don’t comply with it.
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.
We understand that the Government has stated that this amendment to the Ministerial Code does not reflect a substantive change. Rights Watch (UK) challenges this position given that the amendment to the Ministerial Code was explicitly mentioned in the Conservative Party Proposals for changing Britain’s Human Rights Laws. 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 when they have made it very clear of their intention to water down the Human Rights Act.
Yasmine Ahmed, Director of Rights Watch (UK), says:
“For the government to erase from the Ministerial Code the starting presumption that its Ministers will comply with international law is seriously concerning. It evidences a marked shift in the attitude and commitment of the UK Government towards its international legal obligations.
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.
Given our concerns, we will be writing to the Government on Friday, asking them to reinstate the previous version of the Ministerial Code, making it clear that it is absolutely necessary to ensure that Ministers are required to comply with international law in all decisions that they make on behalf of the British public.”
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