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British judicial engagement and the juridification of the armed forces



    1. Professor of Politics in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University.
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    • I am grateful to Richard Ball, Don Carrick, Ian Leigh, Peter Rowe and especially John Williams for comments on earlier drafts of this article.


Although the law has always been a major reference point in the conduct of war, little scholarly attention has focused on the transformative effect of recent legal challenges, judicial rulings and inquiries on the armed forces themselves, notably the 2011 Gage Inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa and the Philip Inquiry into the Mull of Kintyre helicopter disaster. Despite this, the impact has been significant in the ways it has transformed the governance regime of British armed forces and the professional autonomy of the military. This article conceptualizes the impact of law on the armed forces as ‘juridification’. In applying this concept, this article analyses the implications of this for the culture, conduct and organization of the British armed forces. It argues that juridification closes a civil–military relations gap between society on the one hand and the armed forces on the other. As important, juridification also brings with it permanent instability because of the inevitable conflicts that arise from the replacement of an old order based on authority, to a new military system based on rights. Thus the effects of juridification are not just a liminal moment—a transitory dislocation from established structures and the reversal of existing hierarchies—followed by the creation of a permanent new order. Rather, juridification has initiated an era of instability that is characterized by the absence of any permanent settlement of authority and rights in the governance of the armed forces. This has significant implications for the armed forces and their professional autonomy and the social, political and legal context in which armed forces have to operate.