the men who said no




Britain has no compulsory military conscription however little known provisions for conscientious objection exist though no effort is made to make military personnel aware of them.
Below we explain what the process involved for anyone who developes an conscientious objection while working in the armed forces.


IN THE REGULAR ARMED FORCES [Reserve forces below]
If since enlisting or being commissioned in the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Army or the Royal Air Force you have developed a sincere religious, political or moral objection to war in general or to any particular military campaign, then you are legally entitled to an honourable discharge as a conscientious objector.

The procedure can be prolonged and difficult. You are advised to contact the AT EASE helpline for further advice on a Sunday, 5pm-7pm, 020 7490 5223; email

Your first step is a letter to your Commanding Officer stating your position; keep two copies of the letter.

If you would be willing to remain in the Armed Forces provided you were not required to serve in a particular military campaign, you should state this clearly. You should ask, at first, for an alternative posting.

If because of your objection you wish to leave the Armed Forces, then you should ask in your letter to be discharged as a conscientious objector. The procedure is the same whether you object to all warfare or just object to one aspect of military service such as a particular military campaign or deployment in strike-breaking.

You should ask for a posting to non-combatant duties whilst your case is considered.
In either case your letter should be a truthful statement in your own words about your own beliefs.

Your Commanding Officer will usually ask the Chaplain for an opinion on your sincerity (irrespective of whether your objection includes religious motivation). You may speed the process up by seeking an interview with the Chaplain yourself.
You may be asked to provide evidence. This can be a statement about your sincerity from someone who knows you, such as a minister of religion, school or college teacher, former employer, or Member of Parliament.

If your objection is political, ask your referee to be careful about what he or she says. Members of the British Armed Forces are allowed to be members of non-subversive political organisations such as CND, but are not allowed to be active members. That means you are not allowed to join marches, demonstrations, make speeches, talk to journalists or collect petitions. You may wear a badge when not in uniform and you may attend indoor meetings.

If your objection is just in your own mind and you have no witnesses, then you can provide evidence in the form of an affidavit, that is, a formal statement by yourself sworn or affirmed before a solicitor.

Some time after sending in your letter and evidence, and after interview by the Chaplain, you will be informed verbally whether or not your Commanding Officer has recommended your discharge as a conscientious objector.

You will later be informed in writing whether the Ministry of Defence has agreed to your discharge. If the MoD has refused your discharge as a conscientious objector, you should be told of your right to appeal to the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors (ACCO). Even if you have not been told of this right, you still have the right to appeal to ACCO.

This is a committee appointed by the Lord Chancellor, comprising three civilians including a barrister as chair, to question you and decide on your sincerity.
You may bring witnesses, who may include family or friends. You may, if you wish, have a solicitor or you may represent yourself.

The ACCO hearing is usually in London, in premises not associated with the Armed Forces, and, if you are presently posted overseas, you are supposed to be returned to the UK in time to consult a solicitor and/or your witnesses.

You can, if you wish, wear civilian clothes for the hearing.

The MoD will be represented by an officer or senior NCO from your unit, wearing uniform, who will confirm your service record, but not comment on your conscientious objection.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) is recognised by the MoD as having an interest in applications for conscientious objection discharge, and will be invited to send a representative to the hearing.

Although you may be told on the day whether or not you are recommended for discharge as a conscientious objector, the recommendation either way has to be formally confirmed by the Secretary of State for Defence.

If you wish, an AT EASE counsellor can offer advice about the procedure at any stage. Please ring us on a Sunday (5-7pm) 020 7490 5223.

If you have developed a sincere religious, political or moral objection to remaining in the Armed Forces, or to being recalled for deployment in any war or in a particular military conflict, then you are a conscientious objector.

You are legally entitled to an honourable discharge as a conscientious objector, but the procedure can be difficult and prolonged. You are advised to keep in touch with AT EASE.

You need to write a letter to the Commanding Officer of the depot to which you are required to report your movements, or to any person ordering you to report for actual duty, stating your objection. Keep two copies.

This letter should be a truthful statement of your own beliefs in your own words. You need to make clear whether you now object to any form of military service or just to any particular conflict.

If you object to any form of military service then you should ask to be discharged on the grounds of conscience. You should ask for this reason to be stated on your discharge papers.

If you would be willing to remain in the Reserves and be called up in case of national emergency but object to fighting in a particular conflict, then you need to state that clearly.

If you are recalled for actual duty with which you conscientiously feel unable to comply, then, if possible, post your letter before the date on which you have to report. Take a copy with you and hand it in when you report. In that case, you may have a preliminary hearing that day, so you need to think about possible questions and decide your response beforehand.

Would you be willing to serve in this country to take the place of someone else who could then go and fight?

Are you willing to put on any sort of military uniform?

You will be offered a payment for reporting. If you intend to refuse to serve, you are advised not to accept this payment. If they insist on giving you the money then you might state that you will donate it to a suitable good cause. It is helpful to decide in advance what this will be.

If you are not satisfied with the decision on your request you should ask to be referred to the ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS (ACCO). This is a hearing before a panel of three civilians, chaired by a lawyer, who will ask you questions about your sincerity.

You should be given a deferment until this Committee is convened.
For further information about this procedure contact AT EASE helpline on a Sunday, 5pm-7pm, 020 7490 5223; email


Michael Buerk talks to Joe Glenton about how he made the choice to abandon the army and his colleagues because he couldn't agree with the war he had witnessed in Afghanistan.




Note to journalists and peace activists
Please remember that members of the British Armed Forces do not enjoy the same rights to free speech, civil liberties and choice of employment that you have. They do not even have rights enjoyed by members of other European or USA Armed Forces.
It is a heavily punishable offence for any member of the British Armed Forces to communicate with the media directly, indirectly or anonymously, to take part in any demonstration or speak in public on any controversial issue. In overseas operations and conflicts absence without leave is counted and punished as desertion (maximum penalty now life imprisonment). They are committed to harshly enforced, long contracts and since 1991 have not been able to "buy themselves out" (which, in any case, was always a discretionary privilege, never a right).
Before urging them to any action that would incur penalties you will never face, consider advising them to consult AT EASE instead.
AT EASE counsellors will not incite, manipulate or exploit them. We will not ask them to do anything they do not want to do. We will try our best to respect their own decisions and support them in carrying them out.



for members of the 
BRITISH armed forces
Supplied by AT EASE, Bunhill Fields Meeting House, Quaker Court, Banner Street, LONDON, EC1Y 8QQ; telephone Sundays only 5pm-7pm 020 7490 5223,   email
AT EASE is a free, independent advice service for members of the Armed Forces. It is completely confidential. You do not need to tell us your name. We will not attempt to influence your decision.