Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has announced a 12-week consultation over plans to increase awards for servicemen and women injured in combat.
While, at a first glance, this would appear to be good news for soldiers injured on the frontline, away from the positive headlines (including the predictable but unnecessary lawyer bashing by Mr Fallon), I fear a secret agenda is at play.
Firstly, the MoD is calling for legislation to define combat immunity. This is unnecessary as the Judiciary have been defining it perfectly well. Are you in direct combat with the enemy or not? It is a simple question. I believe the MoD simply does like the decisions made by the Courts in which they are often heavily criticised.
Remember of course that the MoD continues to defy the will of a parliamentary Inquiry by refusing to accept corporate responsibility as recommended by the Beyond Endurance Inquiry, called after three army reservists died in the Brecon Beacons.
I believe the MoD’s paper is a veiled 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.
I also take issue with Mr Fallon’s attack on the legal professional. Our firm, and many others, believe passionately in improving the lives of the military and their families. Much of our work is undertaken Pro Bono. As to the legal costs of these cases, without doubt these are incurred due to the excessive delays by the MoD in progressing cases. Are there greedy lawyers out there who have manipulated the system for their own gain? Of course there are – just like there are greedy politicians who have abused the expenses system for their own personal gain. There are rogue elements in every walk of life.
Mr Fallon’s attack on our judiciary is also unfounded. Many of our judges have in fact undertaken military service, and no one lawyer or court has ever had to “second guess” military decisions using civilian criteria. To suggest so is an insult to our judicial system and our intelligence.
Finally (although I could go on!) there is his comment about wanting “to remove the stress of lengthy legal action”, which is nothing short of disingenuous. Legal cases provide a check on the MoD whether they like it or not. To throw a smoke screen called combat immunity over every military operation will send us back to the pre 1987 days when circumstances of all injury and deaths were secret and known only within the MoD. Let’s not turn back the clock.