Time to change legal aid requirements

There seems to be a growing unrest concerning legal claims and the Armed Forces with a number of papers currently in circulation including The Fog of War which does nothing but confuse matters completely.

The situation is complicated but to try and simplify it, there are 3 areas of claims;-

The Armed Forces “Compensation” Scheme is the military pension with a gratuitous lump sum awarded for injury whilst in service. I argued from the outset in 2005 that the Ministry of Defence should not put the word “compensation” in the title of what is in effect a workers industrial injury scheme, as confusion would follow.  Yet the MoD insisted – call me a sceptic but was the MoD’s intention to cause confusion? If so, they have succeeded.

Secondly there is the right for a member of the armed forces to sue through the courts if the MoD has failed in the duty of care they owe to all who serve. This right was enshrined in statute by parliament in 1987 when crown immunity was removed. In 2012/13 the MoD’s latest figures show that only around 2700 claims (out of around 60,000 armed forces personnel) were made with payouts including legal fees being 0.06% of the defence budget.   In other words, peanuts.

In addition, case law has developed (quite rightly and sensibly in my view) that the duty of care owed by the MoD does not apply in the heat of battle. It would be ridiculous if a Captain was sued for making the wrong decision under gun fire and indeed it would be impossible to effectively operate a defence system if that were not the case. This is referred to as “combat immunity,” and is something that the paper, The Fog of War, has totally misunderstood or misrepresented.

Lastly we have Human Rights lawyers – the most infamous of which is Phil Shiner – who proceed to act for Iraqi’s who accuse the British military of brutality and demand compensation from the British tax payer under Human Rights legislation.

No matter what an individual’s legal rights are and whether you are for or against the Human Rights Act, I personally find it very difficult to accept these cases by the mere fact that they are using British legal aid denied to most British residents to take action against the MoD.

Surely there should be a change in the British  legal aid requirements so that only British residents who have contributed taxes to our society are allowed the privilege of free legal advice.

The other issue I have is that our young men and women of the British military have a hard enough job as it is without the “enemy” claiming brutality. Having acted for our serving forces for over 27 years I have found them to be shining examples of the most upstanding and honourable  members of our society – a pleasure to act for and an inspiration to us all.

I have now read that Mr Shiner  believes the British army is rife with acts of brutality, knowledge of which goes to the top of our Government which should face the European Court of Human rights for war crimes!

I was pleased to see an excellent interview with Lord Dannett, the former Head of our Armed Forces who has categorically denied this.  I am not sure why Mr Shiner lives in this country.  His comments and actions are nothing short of a disgrace.

by Hilary Meredith, CEO, Hilary Meredith Solicitors