Lawyer slams AFCS Tribunal for refusing telephone hearing

Armed forces solicitor Natalie Robinson has criticised the War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Tribunal for its failure to adapt to the Coronavirus crisis – after being refused a telephone hearing.

Natalie, Head of Hilary Meredith Solicitors’ Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) department said:

“I travelled from Wilmslow to Hampshire yesterday, and have come into contact with dozens of people. I am now in the county where there have been a number of coronaviruses cases.

“I contacted the Tribunal Service to request telephone hearings for this reason, but my request was refused. I have now been put at risk unnecessarily, especially when the medical member of the panel and the presenting officer from Veterans UK joined the hearing by telephone. The whole situation has been very poorly handled.”

Natalie provided specialist military legal support to the British Army for 12 years, reaching the rank of Major, before being medically discharged in 2015 after an injury on duty led to complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and the partial amputation of her leg. She joined Hilary Meredith Solicitors last year to head up the firm’s AFCS department.

A keen sportswoman, Natalie took part in the very first Invictus Games following her injury, winning a gold medal for her country in Wheelchair Rugby at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

Natalie has first-hand experience of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme – which provides compensation to military service personnel injured on or after 6 April 2005 – having successfully pursued her own claim after injury.

As a solicitor-advocate she is qualified to represent clients in higher courts, meaning she can appear for service personnel at appeals to the Armed Forces Compensation Tribunal.

All in-person hearings across all jurisdictions should be suspended except in ‘very exceptional circumstances’, the Bar Council said today as lawyers continue to attend courts across England and Wales.

In a message to barristers, Amanda Pinto QC said: “We are calling for a suspension of all in-person hearings across all jurisdictions, save in very exceptional circumstances where a video link or phone hearing cannot accommodate the interests of justice. (For example, a long jury trial may be at its closing stages and it may not be appropriate to stop it.) Initially we suggest a 30-day suspension of all in-person civil, family and crime hearings, after which we should take stock.”

The Bar Council said all proceedings conducted in person, and particularly jury trials, are inconsistent with the government’s current health advice.