Court martial for Navy medic conscientious objector

02/07/2011ForcesWatch press release

A medic in the Royal Navy will face court martial on Monday 4 July despite declaring that he is a conscientious objector.

A medic in the Royal Navy will face court martial on Monday 4 July despite declaring that he is a conscientious objector.

Michael Lyons has been charged with “wilful disobedience” because he asked not to participate in rifle training last September after having applied for conscientious objector status.

Lyons could face up to ten years’ imprisonment if convicted.

At a hearing in May, Michael Lyons’ lawyer argued that because Mr Lyons had already declared a conscientious objection at the time of the training, the command for him to participate in it was unlawful. Although Mr Lyons had not been required to handle a weapon since 2005 he was asked to do so when it was known that he had applied for discharge as a conscientious objector.

His lawyer further argued that if Mr Lyons had taken part in the rifle training without protest it would have discredited his claim as a conscientious objector and it was simply something he was unable to do.

Mr Lyons’ defence are also concerned that there could be a perception that the judge in this case is not impartial as he acted as senior prosecutor in a similar case. (2)

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. They have been urging Parliament to amend the current Armed Forces Bill to strengthen the right to conscientious objection. (3)

Lyons last year requested to leave the navy as a conscientious objector, after his commitment to medical ethics led him to object to orders to prioritise British casualties in Afghanistan. He also objects to the level of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. This application was turned down and was also rejected by the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objection (ACCO) in December as they described his objection as “political” rather than “moral”. (3)

Emma Sangster, Co-ordinator of Forces Watch, said:

“There are a number of significant concerns about the handling of Michael Lyons’ case, not least that his objection has the labelled and dismissed as ‘political’. Michael now faces up to 10 years in prison because he stands by his commitment as a medic to treat anyone who needs it.

“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 urge MPs to uphold the human rights of forces personnel by clarifying and strengthening the right to conscientious objection, and the procedures for it in the Armed Forces Bill currently going through Parliament.”

ENDS

Details of court martial: Monday 4 July and Tuesday 5 July 2011, 10am, Portsmouth Military Court Centre, HMS Nelson, Royal Naval Barracks, Portsmouth
http://tinyurl.com/659gf7n

Notes

1. ForcesWatch is a network launched in 2010 concerned with ethical issues around armed forces recruitment and the rights of forces personnel.

2. In a previous hearing 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. However, the judge refused to recuse himself from the case. A single judge at the Court of Appeal subsequently refused permission to appeal this decision. (Mohisin Khan v RAF http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2004/2230.html)

3. Serving members of the forces legally have a right to apply for discharge if they develop a conscientious objection. However, evidence from At Ease, a forces helpline, suggests that many are unaware of this right. No reference is made to it on the Enlistment Paper, the contract a recruit signs on joining the armed forces. For more information, see Forces Watch’s briefing on conscientious objection at http://www.forceswatch.net/resources/forceswatch-briefing-conscientious-….

4. The Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objection (ACCO) recommended in December 2010 that the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, turn down Michael Lyons’ application for discharge due to conscientious objection.