The Evolution of the Modern War Tax Resistance Movement in Britain

Some excerpts from Pressure Through Law by Richard Rawlings & Carol Harlow summarize the beginnings of the quest to legalize a form of conscientious objection to military taxation — what is now seen in the Peace Tax Fund movement and the Peace Tax Seven.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU), founded in by the Revd Dick Sheppard, was discussing the possibility of a “war tax resistance” campaign . PPU’s interest stemmed from prosecution of members for failure to pay income tax and Sheppard wished to establish a general defence of conscientious objection. Though the defense was tried by individuals, the idea of “tackling the Income Tax question on a grand scale” lapsed with Sheppard’s untimely death in …. After the Second World War, however, the question was brought onto the agenda by the Quakers, again contesting income tax assessments.…

In Cheney v. Conn (), a Quaker assessed for income tax put up the defence that the assessment was illegal because a portion would be used for armament — an unlawful purpose. Not surprisingly, the defence failed on the ground that the words of the Finance Act were unambiguous. Some years later, the Quakers tried to move the argument on to new ground, bringing in the Genocide Convention and Genocide Act . Their case was lost in the Court of Appeal where, on the same day, a similar case based on an alleged violation of a fundamental civil right to protest was also lost (Langran v. Hayler, Surrendan v. Hibbs ()). In parallel actions Quakers filed applications in the European Commission of Human Rights under Article 9 of the European Convention (freedom of conscience). The Commission too was unresponsive, holding the applications inadmissible…

About the same time the Peace Pledge Union was running a similar campaign. In , after some reluctance, Council had finally resolved to contest PPU’s liability to pay tax on behalf of its employees… This, the longest running tax resistance case, gained the PPU substantial publicity but was eventually lost in Bloomsbury County Court…

The British group Action Against War is calling for a national tax strike to stop the Iraq war.

The time has come for taxpayers to take control of the nation’s destiny by stopping the money that funds the killing.

Almost the only effective action open to individuals to control the actions of governments between elections is to withdraw financial co-operation. Taxpayers are entirely within their rights to withhold all taxes from a government that uses them for illegal purposes. As the invasion and occupation of Iraq is unquestionably illegal in domestic and international law, taxpayers are legally obliged to withhold all funds from the Government until the war is stopped, armed forces are withdrawn and those responsible for war crimes are prosecuted.

The campaign is using a creative interpretation of the letter and spirit of the law to justify the tax strike as not only a legally justified one, but a legally mandated one:

when Parliament enacted the International Criminal Court Act, Britain’s toughest ever criminal war law, it has been a crime to “provide the financial means to facilitate the commission of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”. Anyone who pays tax to the government knowing that it is contributing to a crime could be treated as an accessory and charged with “conduct ancillary to genocide” by the International Criminal Court.

The IRS is having a rough go of it. It’s new plan to use private debt collectors is being denounced as a boondoggle, its information technology infrastructure is crumbling in such a way as to have cost them over $300 million in fraudulent refunds it has been unable to retrieve, and it has been caught inflating the numbers of audits of the wealthy by making those audits automated and superficial (and easier to hide assets from).

Oh yeah, and their headquarters is closed due to flood damage.