A conscience test case at the Royal Courts of Justice

By staff writers
October 12, 2011

Naval medic Michael Lyons' appeal over being sentenced to seven months in military correction centre for disobeying orders takes place at 10.30am on Thursday 13 October 2011, at the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, London.

The immediate circumstances behind to this important conscientious objection case are set out here http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15545. Mr Lyons has the support of ForcesWatch (www.forceswatch.net), among others. British Forces News carried the earlier story on 6 July at: http://bfbs.com/news/afghanistan/navy-medic-sentenced-seven-months-milit...

In 2010 Mr Lyons requested to leave the navy as a conscientious objector, after his commitment to medical ethics led him to object to question that treating Afghan civilians would be a 'waste of resources'. He also objects to the level of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. His application for dismissal on the grounds of conscientious objection was turned down by the Navy and was also rejected by the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objection (ACCO) in December as they described his objection as "political" rather than "moral" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-14028167).

The European Court of Human Rights affirms the right to conscientious objection to military service, and there is a joint statement from Amnesty International, Conscience and Peace Tax International, International Commission of Jurists, Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva, and War Resisters' International (http://www.wri-irg.org/node/13272).

In the earlier case of Batayan v Armenia, the ECHR found that the imprisonment of a Jehovah's Witness, for his refusal to perform military service at a time when no civilian alternative was available, was a violation of his rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights that protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Paragraph 110 of the Batayan v Armenia judgment states that "the Court notes that Article 9 does not explicitly refer to a right to conscientious objection. However, it considers that opposition to military service, where it is motivated by a serious and insurmountable conflict between the obligation to serve in the army and a person's conscience or his deeply and genuinely held religious or other beliefs, constitutes a conviction or belief of sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance to attract the guarantees of Article 9." (http://www.wri-irg.org/node/13271)

In a previous hearing in the Lyons case the judge was asked to recuse himself from the case because he acted as Senior Prosecutor for the RAF in the case of Mohisin Khan in 2004. The judge refused to recuse himself from the case. A single judge at the Court of Appeal subsequently refused permission to appeal this decision.

Serving members of the forces have a legal right to apply for discharge if they develop a conscientious objection. However, evidence suggests that many serving personnel are unaware of this right and information about it is difficult to access. For more information, see ForcesWatch's briefing on conscientious objection: http://www.forceswatch.net/resources/forceswatch-briefing-conscientious-...

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