Government to face direct legal challenge over the ministerial code

James Nickerson
Follow James
Rights Watch is worried about changes at "a time when the UK government is expanding its use of lethal force abroad (Source: Getty)

A direct legal challenge is to be made against the government and Prime Minister David Cameron over changes to the ministerial code.

On Thursday the government changed the wording of the ministerial code, which now omits a previous reference to ministers being bound by international law.

The code sets out the standard of conduct expected of government ministers, and "serves as an important accountability check on the actions of government ministers; the Prime Minister can fire ministers that don't comply with it".

Read more: Ministers who campaign for Brexit "will be sacked"

In its opening paragraph the code referred to to an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.

In the amended version, the duty to comply with international law and treaty obligations has been deleted.

Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch, which is bringing the case against the government, said: “For the government to erase from the ministerial code the starting presumption that its ministers will comply with international law is seriously concerning. It evidences a marked shift in the attitude and commitment of the UK Government towards its international legal obligations."

Given our concerns, we will be writing to the Government on Friday, asking them to reinstate the previous version of the Ministerial Code, making it clear that it is absolutely necessary to ensure that ministers are required to comply with international law in all decisions that they make on behalf of the British public.

In a separate issue associated with the ministerial code, other wording was changed this year after the Conservatives won a majority at the General Election, which now says: "Ministers also have an obligation to ensure decisions agreed in Cabinet and Cabinet Committees (and in write-rounds) are implemented."

This led a cabinet source to tell the Daily Mail ministers who want to campaign to leave the EU will be sacked.

Related articles