Green party parliamentarians threaten legal action against the Government over the failure to publish a 'targeted killing policy'

The Government’s policy on targeted killings is facing the threat of legal challenge in the High Court.

The potential legal action, brought by Caroline Lucas MP and Baroness Jenny Jones, follows David Cameron’s announcement earlier this month that two British nationals had been killed by a UK drone in Raqqah, Syria.

Speaking on 7 September 2015, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the victims of the attack were members of the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In a letter sent today to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Attorney General, Leigh Day, the law firm representing the parliamentarians, raised concerns that the Government had failed to formulate and/or publish an adequate “Targeted Killing Policy”.

They argue the formulation and publication of such a Policy is required, under domestic and international law, to ensure transparency, clarity and accountability regarding the use of lethal force.

The two Parliamentarians’ state in their 'letter before action' that: “The Claimants condemn terrorism. The Government is right to dedicate resources to ensure the British public is protected. Yet those planning or involved in such acts must be dealt with in accordance with the law.

It continues: "If any pre-authorised and targeted killing can be lawful, they must be carried out under a formulated and published Targeted Killing Policy which ensures transparency, clarity and accountability for such use of lethal force.”

The lawyers point to a lack of clarity and consistency from the UK government in their justification for the use of lethal force in Syria. The potential threat to the UK posed by the two men who were killed has been described as “potential”, “direct”, “likely” and “imminent”.

Such a lack of consistency regarding the circumstances in which the government considers it able to use lethal force raises serious concerns as to it lawfulness.

The Government has until 7 October 2015 to confirm whether or not it has in place a Targeted Killing Policy and to confirm whether it will publish its Policy without further delay.

Rosa Curling from the human rights team at law firm Leigh Day said:

“The lack of, or the failure to publish, the policy by which the UK government is currently killing UK citizens abroad is unlawful. It is crucial our government’s actions to counter terrorism are lawful and transparent. The government must allow its Targeted Killing Policy to be properly scrutinised by the public, Parliament and the courts without further delay.”

Kat Craig, legal director at international human rights charity Reprieve said:

“The Government has said it has the power to kill anyone, anywhere in the world, without oversight or safeguards. This is a huge step, and at the very least the Prime Minister should come clean about his new kill policy.

"Instead, we are seeing the UK follow the US down the dangerous path of secret, unaccountable drone strikes – a policy which has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen, without making us any safer. Parliament and the public deserve to know what is being done in their name.

"It is disappointing that MPs are having to turn to the courts to extract even the most basic information on a policy which the Prime Minister himself has described as a ‘new departure’ for the country.”

Caroline Lucas MP said: “The Government appears to have adopted a ‘Kill Policy’ in secret –without Parliamentary debate or the prospect of proper independent scrutiny. Sanctioning lethal drone attacks on British citizens is a significant departure from previous policy, as well as potentially unlawful, and it’s deeply concerning that it has occurred without appropriate oversight.

"By refusing to publish the legal basis for these attacks, the Government has created a legal and accountability vacuum. We need to be able to determine whether the attacks – and what they signify in terms of Government policy - meet the robust conditions set out in international and domestic law.

“I am part of bringing this case because if we want to be effective at countering terrorism then we must ensure we act lawfully. There are serious questions to be answered about the legality of the strikes, as well as the lack of robust oversight.

"Given the evidence from the USA, where former heads of defence and others have called their secret use of drones a ‘failed strategy’, it’s crucial that the UK’s actions to date and moving forward are subject to proper debate and scrutiny, particularly as its apparent new ‘Kill Policy’ goes beyond even what the US has been doing.”

Baroness Jones said: “The Government can't argue that they are defending British values of democracy and the rule of law if they suddenly invent a new 'bomb to kill' policy which ignores all those democratic traditions and safeguards. If our Government is saying it will kill certain individuals, outside of armed conflict, whenever the opportunity arises, then you have to ask several obvious questions.

“Which countries do we, and don't we, apply this to? Who decides that these people are guilty and how is that evidence challenged and proven without judicial oversight? If it is seen as likely that the individuals pose a direct and imminent threat to our safety, but remain at large for six months, or a year, when is the 'immediacy' reassessed? How many individuals are we targeting and why are we applying a death sentence to them rather than others?

"The Government need to not only answer these key questions, they need to be prepared to have their answers debated in public and challenged.