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Groundbreaking new legal report expresses major concerns about UK sanctions regime




A new legal report authored by leading British barrister Dean Armstrong KC of Maitland Chambers and the International Legal Forum (ILF), an international coalition of lawyers committed to combatting terror and promoting the rule of law, has found major flaws in the UK sanctions regime, deeming it highly ineffective and presenting serious concerns regarding lack of due process.

One of the primary tools the UK uses to advance and achieve its foreign policy goals is the designation of sanctions on individuals and entities – citizens of the UK as well as foreigners.

The report asserts that the UK sanctions regime is generally ineffective in attaining the objective of deterring targeted countries and individuals from engaging in the activities that prompted the imposition of the unilateral sanctions. Further, these ineffective, and often arbitrary unilateral sanctions based on the whims of individual ministers, can have unforeseen and damaging consequences on innocent persons who have no influence over the state which is the true target of the sanctions.

The very broad sanctions which have been introduced on Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, set a dangerous precedent of becoming a highly politicized tool in other conflicts, which can already be observed by the application of sanctions against Israeli individuals and groups.

The report makes a number of recommendations of how the UK can create a stronger sanctions regime with transparency that enshrines respect for due process and individual rights.

  1. Unilateral sanctions regulations for purposes other than national security should describe their necessity and effectiveness and provide for an annual review phase by courts and/or a regulatory authority.
  • When designating individuals – there should be a clear evidential link established to the criminal standard between the target and the situation being addressed.
  • The procedure for the designation of persons by name should have the default position that mandatory notification of the targeted person is presented by the appropriate Minister, be accompanied by a clear procedure for challenge, allowing for ample time and evidence necessary for an adequate defence before the designation is issued and provide the targeted person with full written reasons for the designation.
  • The disclosure of non-classified information should be mandatory in all cases that are not related to national security.
  • Designation, whether by name or description, should be accompanied by a clear procedure that the targeted person can follow in order to cease committing the sanctioned behaviour. 
  • Establishment of an expert panel to assist the Minister in the procedures of listing and reviewing the applications for de-listing.

Dean Armstrong KC:

The UK regime, often driven by individual ministers, lacks consistency, clarity of process and proportionality and fails to achieve its aims in punishing bad actors. Instead, unforeseen consequences are apparent, whereby the flawed regime impacts innocent individuals and entities which bind them extraterritorially.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, human rights attorney and CEO of The International Legal Forum:

The glaring arbitrariness and politicization of the existing sanctions regime has been evident every week since the October 7th massacre by Hamas, as the very same leaders who designated Israelis for sanctions, chose not to designate even one of the UK or foreign nationals who called for Jihad and Intifada on the streets of London, or Palestinian extremists and officials, who continue to incite violence and racial hatred.”

Whilst Armstrong KC and the ILF firmly believe in the necessity of a sanctions regime as a key tool of foreign policy and national security, they advocate for a more robust, targeted and transparent system, that conforms with Britain’s obligations under international law and respect for the principles of due process and individual rights.

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