Combat immunity plans a retrograde step

Ministry of Defence acting like it is above the law

Hilary Meredith has criticised proposals by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to scrap the legal duty of care it owes to service personnel in the course of combat.

Under the proposed scheme, personnel would no longer be able to sue the MoD for negligence. Compensation would instead be awarded by an MoD-appointed assessor.  The MoD said the proposals, which are being consulted on until next week, would lead to “better compensation”.

Said Hilary:

“The MoD is acting like it is above the law.

“It is trying to remove the duty of care it owes to servicemen and women and replace it with its own idea of a pension akin to a court compensation award. This is ludicrous – in my 25 years of dealing with the MoD, we have never agreed on a figure at the very start of the case.  The legal process simply doesn’t work like that.

“The MoD’s proposals are a blatant attempt to throw a blanket across all military operations stretching right back to Whitehall when, for example, procuring equipment for war. This means that when they send men and women to the front line with the wrong equipment the MoD won’t be “found out” as the cases won’t be made public through the courts, and Parliament and the public won’t know of the MoD’s failings.”

Added Hilary:

“The legal process needs to be transparent.  Everyone needs to be accountable.  These proposals are a retrograde step.”

Colin Redpath, whose son was killed in Iraq, has also told the BBC the proposals are “wrong”.

He said: “At the end of the day they are an employer.

“The fire brigade, the police, the ambulance service, they all have to go out with equipment that works. And the right equipment. That should be the same for a soldier.

“If not, then what the MoD are saying is that we could send our boys and girls out with broomsticks. It wouldn’t matter. There’s no comeback.”

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, fears the latest proposals could stifle legitimate public debate and deny bereaved relatives access to justice.

Its president, Robert Bourns, said: “The Ministry of Defence wants to make it impossible for soldiers and their families to bring claims against it to court when these relate to actions in combat. Any claimant would only have recourse to an internal MoD compensation scheme that would rule on cases brought against itself.

“This means cases would not be heard by an independent judge, facts would not be independently investigated, responsibility would not be established and a state institution, if liable, would not be held to account.

“Soldiers and their families must not be shut out of our justice system. The Law Society will be responding to the MoD’s consultation to raise these and other concerns.”