The Guardian reports that Human rights campaigners have challenged the prime minister in the high court, accusing her of abandoning the longstanding principle that members of the government should be bound by international law.
The paper says that campaigners from the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) argued in court that ministers had abandoned their commitment to abide by international law after quietly rewriting the ministerial code in 2015:
The code has been in existence since 1997 and sets out the standard of conduct expected by ministers.
The previous code, issued in 2010, said there was 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”.
In the current version the sentence has been edited to say only that there was an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life”.
Critics have said changes to the code had far-reaching implications for the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world.
Although this may seem like a fairly minor change it has far-reaching consequences. As the Guardian says, key issues affected by the change could include decisions about whether to go to war or use military force, any decision made by an international court about the UK and any laws not incorporated into English law, such as human rights legislation and the Geneva conventions. The GCHR have laid out in detail some of the implications of this change:
Sue Willman, a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn which is representing GCHR, said: “International law is vital not just for our government to be held to account but to ensure that their decisions do not suggest complicity with oppressive governments around the world.”
Melanie Gingell, a member of the GCHR advisory board, said: “Over the past few years, the UK government has sought not only to downplay its own human rights obligations but also to wilfully ignore the violations of their allies in the Gulf. These are states that are systematically abusing their own people.
“The ministerial code is vital to ensure that decisions by UK ministers do not contribute to those abuses. The phrase deleted underpinned the government’s respect for human rights and international law on everything from torture, freedom of speech, respect for women’s and children’s rights to fighting corruption and bribery.”
Although the Government's lawyer has argued that there no examples of Ministers breaching international law, the Prime Minister of the day must have anticipated circumstances where such a breach would happen.
So much for the UK providing moral leadership to the rest of the world.