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Parliament's Role in the Use of Military Action After the Syria Vote: The New Constitutional Convention and the Next Steps

Publication date: Sep 30, 2013 11:57 AM

Start: Mar 10, 2014 06:00 PM
End: Mar 10, 2014 07:00 PM

Location: Council Room, The Rubin Building, 29/30 Tavistock Square

Constitution Unit Seminar Series

Speaker: Prof Gavin Phillipson (University of Durham)

This seminar addresses two linked questions: first, what is the constitutional significance of the dramatic House of Commons vote on military intervention in Syria last August - a vote which had the effect of reversing the UK Government's previous policy? Does it provide the decisive final piece of evidence that a new constitutional convention requiring the assent of the Commons before the use of armed force now exists? Second, should further steps now be taken to formalise and concretise the newly emerged, or emerging, convention by means of a parliamentary resolution?

In relation to the first point, Professor Phillipson will make use of Jenning's classical three-fold test for the existence of conventions to argue that a careful analysis of the Syria episode compared to previous episodes treated as 'precedents' (notably re Iraq and Libya), demonstrates that the Syria vote does provide decisive new evidence in a number of respects. He will therefore conclude that there is now a constitutional Convention to the effect that  the Government must, before, commencing any military action, permit a debate and vote in the House of Commons and abide by its result, subject to a narrow exception where truly urgent or secret action is required.

In relation to the second point, Phillipson will argue in favour of concretising the new convention by means of a parliamentary resolution. He will contend that there are important arguments, derived from the separation of powers that favour the settling of the terms of a convention in a text formally approved by Parliament, as a means both of guaranteeing its integrity and bolstering its normative force. He will also argue that such a resolution would have the key practical benefit of resolving the ambiguity and uncertainty over important aspects of the new convention; in making this argument he will contend that the arguments of the House of Lords Constitution Committee against such a course of action are manifestly flawed and unpersuasive.   

Attendees may be interested in reading Phillipson's full defence of the first point on the UK Constitutional Law Blog, here and of the second in his evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee here.

Gavin Phillipson has held a Chair in Law at the University of Durham since January 2007; he is also a qualified solicitor and has been a Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne. His research interests lie in the fields of European and UK human rights law, especially freedom of expression and in particular the interface of those fields with public law and constitutional and political theory. Particular areas of interest include: counter-terrorism law; ‘horizontal effect’ under the Human Rights Act; privacy, libel, hate speech and pornography; public protest and direct action; House of Lords reform. He has published widely in these areas in top UK journals, including the Modern Law Review, Law Quarterly Review, Current Legal Problems, Public Law and recently in leading US and Canadian journals

A drinks reception will follow the event

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