From the Legal Adviser's Office 18th August 2004
Dear Mr Shiner
Re: War Taxes and Freedom of Religion, Belief and Conscience.
Thank you for your letter of 21st July 2004 addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and copied to the Treasury Solicitor. I have been asked to reply.
I should first explain that your letter is not being treated as a letter before action. It does not contain basic information essential to such a letter, such as the identification of the decision it is proposed to challenge, or the statutory provisions, if any, at issue. Such information is a necessary prerequisite to determine the identity of the appropriate defendant to any challenge. To that extent I have had to consult colleagues from HM Treasury as well as the Inland Revenue in drafting this reply.
The contents of your letter have been considered carefully and noted, including by policy colleagues in the above departments. I am not able to comment on the political issues which you raise. If new legislation is sought to alter the longstanding basis upon which taxes ere administered, then that is a matter which can be pursued through the appropriate political processes (e.g. a Private Members Bill) and they are not issues for those who administer the law or for the Courts.
Insofar as you refer to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) it has been the consistent approach of the European Court that such issues do not engage Article 9 ECHR. Far from the Court indicating any change of stance from that taken in C v UK (and a number of other similar cases to which you have not referred), the recent case law affirms the established principles.
In C v UK the European Court stated:
"in protecting this personal sphere. Article 9 of the Convention does not always guarantee the right to behave in the public sphere in a way which is dictated by such a belief: for instance by refusing to pay certain taxes because part of the revenue so raised may be applied for military expenditure. The Commission so held in Application No. 7050 (Arrowsmith v United Kingdom Comm Rep para 71 DR 19 p 5). where It stated that "the term 'practice' as employed in Art 9(1) does not cover each act which is motivated or influenced by a religion or a belief'" [emphasis added]
It is notable that the Court has confirmed the scope of Article 9 ECHR as set out in C v UK in the recent case of Pretty v United Kingdom (Application no, 2346/02) where it reiterated the established principle that:
'the term 'practice' as employed in Article 9 (1) does not cover each act which is motivated or influenced by religion or belief (see Arrowsmith v United Kingdom No. 7050/77..)" (paragraph 82 ) and it rejected the claim under Article 9 ECHR.
In C v UK. the European Court emphasised the importance of the neutrality of general taxation, where no individual taxpayer could influence or determine the purpose for which his or her contributions are applied once they are collected, In this way general taxation is neutral between religions and belief systems, so that none is favoured. You should note that a system which is not neutral could in itself contravene Article 9 ECHR and introduce the risk of discrimination.
In line with the established legal authorities, it is not considered that the collection of taxes engages Article 9 ECHR on the basis suggested and so the question of justification of any interference of the qualified rights thereunder does not arise. A general and neutral basis for the administration of taxes is clearly justified to ensure that a viable system of financing activities in the public interest is maintained to ensure the safety of the public, the protection of law and order and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Further, I note that no detailed provisions have been provided by your clients which would define a system that would be acceptable to all of them, let alone all the differing interests of the public at large. It remains unclear what expenditure would and what would not be objectionable. Views may differ, for example, on whether it is objectionable to expend funds on the protection of the public from terrorism, or the protection of individuals at risk of assassination due to their public duties, or military peace-keeping forces such as those attempting to assist in building a stable environment In Sierra Leone, or indeed carrying out other humanitarian work such as food drops and peace-keeping duties in other parts of Africa.
I am sure that you would also agree that it would be difficult to justify derogating from the principle of neutrality solely in the case of pacifism but not for similarly seriously held beliefs and opinions such as those held by anti-vivisectionists who may object to spending on certain medical research or drugs which have been tested on animals. Furthermore, setting up individual budgets to cater for a whole range of deeply-held convictions would not only be difficult, taking into account the scope of such myriad opinions and beliefs, but would also be disproportionate in terms of cost.
In addition, where military expenditure represents only a certain limited portion of public expenditure, for any individual to consider that his or her contribution is automatically assigned for use solely or largely for military purposes rather than on spending in other areas, does appear to be something of a personal assumption, which might prove difficult to substantiate.
Even if your clients were to assume that they were in fact contributing towards expenditure on the military, there is also the issue of fairness towards all other taxpayers which has to be considered. If some taxpayers were, on grounds of conviction, to decline to contribute to public services from which they still benefit, such as the defence of the realm, this could give rise to other taxpayers in effect subsidising through their taxes those who are not paying for such services, but who are nonetheless continuing to benefit from them.
These are issues which, it appears, would fall to be considered more properly in the political sphere, alongside all the other issues which concern the allocation of public funding.
Treasury Legal Advisers