Use of lethal action outside of armed conflict

Thank you to those who recently contacted me about the use of lethal action outside of armed conflict.


I understand that concerns have been raised about the Government's position on targeting suspects outside of areas of armed conflict following changes made to the Ministry of Defence's joint doctrine publication on unmanned aircraft systems (JDP 0-30.2). I agree it is important that there is transparency around the legal framework and guidance that is employed by the Government around the use of drones and that there is a need for the public to feel confident that rules of engagement are applied and followed consistently.


The Government has said that it does not have a policy of "targeted killing", and that drones are operated in accordance with the same domestic and international legal framework (including international humanitarian and international human rights law) that regulates conventional manned aircraft, other weapons and other means or methods of warfare.


As you may be aware, in September 2015 the then Prime Minister David Cameron informed Parliament of a targeted RAF drone strike against a Daesh fighter whom intelligence agencies had linked to a "credible and specific terrorist threat" to the UK. This strike took place before Parliament approved UK military action against Daesh in Syria as part of the wider global coalition. It was also the first time the UK had conducted a lethal drone strike against a terrorist target outside of participation in a military campaign.


The then Prime Minister said that the strike was "necessary and proportionate for the individual self-defence of the UK" and that there was a legal basis for the action. Given the significance of the circumstances of this strike, a number of cross-party Parliamentary inquiries were initiated by it including one by the Joint Committee on Human Rights into the Government's policy on the use of drones for targeted killing. The Joint Committee concluded that "there is a right of self-defence against armed attack by non-State actors such as Daesh, and that anticipatory self-defence is also permitted."


I appreciate concerns about this issue and it is of course important that our brave service personnel have sufficient legal certainty to reassure them that they are not at risk of criminal prosecution for complicity in unlawful acts. Drones play an important role in our Armed Forces and as their use increases I believe the Government should endeavour to be as open and transparent as possible on its approach to their use.

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