Conscientious Objection in the UK Armed Forces

“Conscientious objection to military service is a subtle concept. Broadly speaking, it arises when a serving or prospective member of the armed forces finds that their work cannot / could not be done in good conscience. When the claim of  conscience is sufficiently powerful for the person to seek to remove themselves from their work, then a conscientious objection can be said to exist. This could arise in relation either to specific orders or military operations, or to military service in all its aspects. Informed Choice: Armed Forces Recruitment Practice in the UK, 2007″


Life in the armed forces can have a significant effect on the outlook and attitudes of those who undertake it. Exposure to warfare can radically alter a person’s values and beliefs. The armed forces recognise the right of serving personnel to be discharged if they develop a conscientious objection. But this right is not set out clearly in legislation, is not mentioned in the terms of service and many, perhaps most, forces personnel are unaware of it. The system for registering a conscientious objection needs to be far easier to access and the different types of conscientious objection need to be fully recognised. The situation in theory A member of the forces who has a conscientious objection is generally expected to raise the issue informally with his/her commanding officer. The officer’s options include rejecting the objection outright or moving the objector to a different position (such as a non-combatant role).
If the person concerned remains unsatisfied, he/she can make a formal application for discharge due to conscientious objection. After an interview which usually involves a chaplain or other third party, the commanding officer makes a recommendation to the chain of command where the decision for discharge or refusal is made. If turned down at this stage, the applicant can appeal to the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors (ACCO) who hold a hearing and make a recommendation to the Defence Secretary. 

Discharges due to conscientious objection are rare, with only six granted between 2001 and 2010


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