In 2014 Child Soldiers International launched a judicial review against the Army's Terms of Service Regulations, on the grounds that they unfairly discriminate against younger recruits. Although recruits who enlist as minors have a right to drop out of training before their 18th birthday, after this point the so-called “Catch-22” clause obligates them to remain in the army until they are at least 22 years old, regardless of their age when they joined. The consequence of the regulations is that, whereas an adult recruit (aged 18 or above at enlistment) can serve for four years and then exercise the right to leave, a recruit who enlisted at 16 or 17 years of age cannot. The RAF, Royal Marines and Navy used to apply similar discriminatory rules but abolished them in 2001. The Army is the only service which continues to discriminate against recruits who enlist as minors in this manner.

The claim was heard at the Royal Courst of Justice in June 2015. In his judgement, Justice Kenneth Parker agreed that the rules discriminated against minors as they did ‘treat those recruited under 18 less favourably’. Despite this, he accepted the Ministry of Defence’s claim that European and national law (Council Directive 2000/78/EC and UK Equality Act 2010) entitled it to discriminate against Army recruits on the basis of age or disability, without any limits of proportionality.

It is a fundamental principle of national and international law that the best interests of the child be prioritised in all matters relating to those under the age of 18. The current Army Terms of Service Regulations evidently do not comply with this principle, and Child Soldiers International will continue to campaign for reform.

Judgment: Child Soldiers International vs. Secretary of State for Defence. 2015 EWHC 2183 (Admin) case number CO/4671/2014, 24 July 2015.