Tax resistance

Joe Jenkins reports on the the Peace Tax Seven, a group of conscientious objectors seeking a judicial review of the war tax policies in Britain

December 18, 2007
6 min read

It is difficult these days to find apologists – particularly in Gordon Brown’s cabinet – who supported the invasion of Iraq. However, alongside the 50 per cent or so of the population who supported the war in 2003, it is no exaggeration to say that millions protested, held vigils, went on marches, lobbied MP’s and signed petitions to try and stop the war, but the government went ahead and executed their war, in our name, and with our taxes. As Alexander Haig, US Secretary of State said, when confronted by the historic anti-nuclear marches in 1982, ‘Let them march all they want as long as they continue to pay their taxes’.

Some taxpayers however – following the examples set by the American writer Thoreau in the nineteenth century, Joan Baez during the Vietnam war and pacifists in Britain in the 1980’s and 1990’s – withheld the military portion of their taxes maintaining that in matters of deliberate killing, personal conscience reigns supreme and no state can over rule the individual conscience and force its citizens to pay to kill. The courts however ruled that ‘war tax resisters’ have no option but to pay up.

In this, the courts are upholding the valid principle that taxation should not be unnecessarily divided, and that individuals in a democracy should not pick and choose how their personal contributions are disbursed. However, in doing so, conscientious objectors argue that the law as it currently stands ignores the fact that UK tax administration already divides tax revenue into a number of streams for practical reasons: given that National Insurance is accessed and administered separately from ordinary income tax. The courts ignore the unique personal urgency of the issue of the deliberate taking of human life, which is already conceded in the right to conscientious objection to military service – a right established at the height of the Great War in 1916 – and in the disinclination of political parties to dictate to MP’s consciences on comparable issues such as capital punishment.

In law nothing entitles a person to pay to kill another but it is currently impossible for any taxpaying UK citizen to live by this principle without coming into conflict with the government and the courts, because the courts enforce a policy which compels the individual taxpayer to contribute about 10 per cent of their total tax bill to military expenditure, irrespective of conscientious objection.

All walks of life

In 2004 seven taxpaying citizens decided to form a group – calling themselves the Peace Tax Seven campaign – to obtain a Judicial Review for a change in the law so that conscientious objectors can have the military portion of their taxes redirected to peace building and conflict resolution initiatives. Their lawyers, led by Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, maintain that since the Human Rights Act and the right to freedom of conscience has now been enshrined in British law, British citizens have the right to translate an ancient and compelling conscientious objection directly into tax policy on this specific issue, yet, UK tax policy ignores this fact.

The group, are taxpayers from all walks of life – a retired teacher, an accountant, a psychiatrist, a writer, a toymaker, a university lecturer and a single mother who argue that they have a legal right to have the military portion of their taxes put in a ring-fenced fund solely for peaceful purposes. Their campaign has taken its toll on all seven given that alongside individual legal proceedings, bailiffs, fines and possible bankruptcy and imprisonment, they have had to raise over £50,000 to take this case all the way to the High Court for a Judicial Review. Such has been the public outrage about the invasion of Iraq that the group managed to raise the money and in July 2005 their case was heard in the High Court.

Building a culture of peace

Although the judge found the Peace Tax Seven arguments ‘forceful’ their request for a Judicial Review of current UK tax policy was turned down. At an appeal court hearing in March 2006 it became plain that the British judges acknowledged the validity of the arguments, particularly when three Lord Justices, while refusing permission for a judicial review, cast doubt on previous rulings that had previously prevented cases like this moving forward; recommending that having exhausted the British legal process the group are now in a position to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Earlier this year papers were lodged with the European Court at Strasbourg and the group is currently waiting on a decision as to when they will have their case heard. Already the legal bills are mounting and the group must raise another £70,000 to successfully fight their case in Europe.

Building a culture of peace is a difficult, complicated and uncertain process, yet it is reasonable to suggest that tax arrangements are one part of the political and civic culture, which must be developed in peaceful directions. The Peace Tax Seven are in no doubt that in the modern world conscientious objectors can fulfil all of their responsibilities to the community including the responsibility of paying for its safety and security without giving a penny to the armed forces and argue that they have the right to do so. Experts in civilian and military fields are already stressing the importance to national security of conflict prevention, civilian peace work and global justice in its wider sense. In insisting on this right the Peace Tax Seven maintain that they are standing up for the rights and for the well being of all victims of war and violence in our own community and across the world.

The Peace Tax Seven currently owe £12,000 to their lawyers and their

work will continue as the case progresses through the courts. If you

object to having your taxes used for war, please give generously to

help them challenge this issue and win their case www.peacetaxseven.com/donate.html


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram


3