High Court appeal for imprisoned Navy conscientious objector

By agency reporter
12 Oct 2011

A medic in the Royal Navy who was detained at court martial in July this year will appeal his conviction at the High Court on Thursday 13 October 2011.

Michael Lyons was convicted of "wilful disobedience" because he asked not to participate in rifle training in September 2011, since he had applied for conscientious objector status.

He was consequently given 7 months detention, stripped of his rank as Leading Medical Assistant and dismissed from the service.

At Mr Lyons' court martial his lawyer argued that, because he had already applied for discharge as a conscientious objector at the time of the training, the command for him to participate in it was unlawful.

Furthermore, as a medic and non-combatant, Mr Lyons had not been required to handle a weapon since 2005 and is not required to do so under the Geneva Convention.

Shortly after Mr Lyons was convicted, a ground-breaking ruling was made by the European Court of Human Rights which could have significant impact on this and similar cases. The ECHR ruled that states have a duty to respect individuals' right to conscientious objection to military service as part of their obligation to respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion set out in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Lyon's wife, Lillian, said of her husband, who is now detained at the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester: "I am so proud of my husband, he is the most compassionate, kind, loving and moral man I have ever known. I agree with everything he has done, and I am appalled by the way the Navy have treated him."

ForcesWatch, a network concerned with ethical issues around the armed forces, said the case highlights the lack of respect shown for the human rights of forces personnel.

Emma Sangster, Co-ordinator of ForcesWatch, commented: "There are a number of significant concerns about the way that Michael Lyons' case has been handled - within the chain of command, by the committee that dismissed his claim to conscientious objection as 'political', and in the conclusions of the court martial."

She continued: "In passing sentence, the judge questioned Michael's sincerity, although no evidence to question this was brought before the hearing. On the contrary, Michael's immediate commanding officer did not block his application."

"It is quite clear that Michael's awareness and conscience have developed significantly since he enlisted aged 18. He joined up because he was sold the story that, as a member of the Navy, he would be offering humanitarian aid to people who needed it. Michael has been extremely courageous to act on his conscience and remain consistent and dignified throughout this whole process," she added.

"The simple injustice of Michael's treatment illustrates how the government and the Ministry of Defence repeatedly fail to recognise conscientious objection in practice. We hope the recent recognition given to those who object on moral grounds to military service by the European Convention on Human Rights will create a change of attitude in the UK armed forces," concluded Ms Sangster.

* More on the background to the case, and the legal issues involved, here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15546

* ForcesWatch, which is backed by Ekklesia and many other NGOs and individuals, is a network launched in 2010 concerned with ethical issues around armed forces recruitment and the rights of forces personnel. www.forceswatch.net

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