[JURIST] UK Armed Services Minister Bob Ainsworth [official profile] said Sunday that the British military is again considering whether to change a policy that prohibits women from serving in "close combat" positions. The review, mandated every eight years by a European Union Equal Treatment Directive [text] barring discrimination in the workplace, last took place in 2002 and resulted in a policy that bars women from "close combat" but permits other military activities. Ainsworth said that a study into the policy was also prompted [BBC report] by the military's interest in the effect having female soldiers in combat roles would have. Proponents of the restriction have argued that mixed-sex combat units could be less effective.
The 2002 report [MOD report, PDF] maintained the existing policy, but said that gender restrictions might be repealed if there were "direct evidence" that permitting women to serve in combat would not effect morale. The European Court of Justice, in Sirdar v. The Army Board [judgment text], has held that women can be excluded from the special forces without violating the EU directive because concerns over unit safety.