Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

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

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency


3