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
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