“The legality of the use of armed drones is one of the most important and pressing issues in modern international relations and public international law.” Judge Nicolas Wikeley
Very disappointingly we have been refused permission for a full hearing before the Upper Tribunal of our appeal to overturn the refusal of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to answer our FoI requests on the use of armed drones in Afghanistan. (Full decision here – pdf).
As regular readers will know in 2012 we requested information about the location of UK drone strikes in Afghanistan by province and the breakdown of strikes undertaken under daily tasking orders (i.e. pre-planned) and those launched under dynamic targeting procedures (i.e. ‘on the fly’). This information was refused by the MoD and we have been appealing the decision since.
A two-day hearing before the Lower Tribunal in September 2013 – held in part behind closed doors – upheld the decision of the MoD to refuse the information.
This latest hearing was an attempt to overturn the Lower Tribunal’s decision and hold a full hearing before the Upper Tribunal. Judge Wikeley acknowledged the “fundamental significance of the public debate which lies behind [the] requests” and stated that “The legality of the use of armed drones is one of the most important and pressing issues in modern international relations and public international law.”
Nevertheless he decided that the Lower Tribunal was entitled to make the decision that it had based on the evidence before it – crucially the evidence that was given behind closed doors by a serving RAF officer and former drone pilot – evidence that we are not entitled to see.
Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK said
“We are extremely disappointed with this decision. Even thought the judge clearly recognised the importance of the issue and Parliament and the UN have been calling for greater transparency we are still simply being kept in the dark about the ongoing day-to-day use of armed drones. The growing use of armed unmanned drones is a matter of serious public interest in the UK and right around the world. In order to answer the many legal and ethical questions raised by such systems, a proper understanding of how they are being used on a day-to-day basis is needed and it is right that the public have access to such information. We are now considering the way forward.”