The Ministry of Defence must show leadership from the top and face up to its responsibilities says Hilary Meredith
The long awaited Chilcot report has now been published – as has the Government’s response to the groundbreaking Beyond Endurance? Military exercises and the duty of care report.
Chilcot makes it clear that our troops were sent to war with poor equipment. To its shame however, the MoD is attempting to escape responsibility for putting our servicemen and women in this position by extending the scope of combat immunity to cover procurement of equipment back in Whitehall.
This is clearly wrong and must not be allowed to happen. Combat immunity is there to protect military operations when thinking is impaired in the heat of battle. It cannot relate to procurement decisions back at Whitehall where corners have been cut, and our soldiers have been placed in danger in an attempt to save money.
Following Chilcot, there are already indications that the international courts will be looking for issues of abuse of war crimes by the British military.
The MoD can now bury its head in the sand and hang our soldiers out to dry or it can step up to the plate and show some leadership. Responsibility must come from the top.
While any potential war crime should be thoroughly investigated, the MoD should stand behind those accused and offer a framework of support. Those who have served feel deserted by military top brass who fail to offer support.
Depressingly, we are already aware of misleading guidance given to our soldiers by the chain of command – with our service men and women then abandoned when accused of wrongdoing.
It has to be wrong that many cases of abuse are fuelled by promises of a fat cheque to the so called Iraqi civilians with legal fees paid for by our taxpayers’ money via the legal aid board. Our military personnel on the other hand are given no funding for independent lawyers to represent them.
The persecution of our soldiers has to stop. The Al-Sweady inquiry has already exposed the smearing of British soldiers, with false claims that they murdered and tortured innocent Iraqis. Chilcot is an opportunity for the MoD to put out a statement to the world – we support our troops, stand firmly behind them.
When it comes accepting responsibility, the MoD has a poor track record however.
The Government has recently published its response to the Beyond Endurance? Military exercises and the duty of care report – rejecting proposals to reform the military exemptions in the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007.
Sadly, it comes as no surprise that yet again the MoD is trying to wriggle out of responsibility for failings so grossly negligent they result in manslaughter.
Only modest amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 would be required to ensure in such rare circumstances the MoD as a corporation would face sanctions or heavy fines and lessons would be learnt.
The MoD admits itself that these circumstances would be few and far between so what does it have to fear? Why should the MoD be any different from any other large corporation when such terrible mistakes have been made?
While I welcome the implementation of the Defence Safety Authority formed on 1st April 2015, it does seem as if it is too little too late after the disastrous consequences of Brecon Beacons where three army reservists lost their lives.
I also welcome the Duty Holder concept where the MoD is holding to account their own in charge of design and delivery of training. However there is still no acceptance of responsibility at the top from the MoD as a corporation.
It is encouraging that moves are being made to reduce climatic injuries in the armed forces. However, the MoD has changed the Armed Forces Compensation scheme so that anyone suffering climatic injuries has to fund the cost of an independent neurological report. These reports can cost up to £2500 each and the cost has to be met by the victim.
It is also good news that at last the MoD will provide the next of kin with unredacted copies of the Service Inquiry report following the fatality of a loved one. Hopefully this will mean the full, accurate circumstances leading up to a death will be known from day one rather than coming to light at the Coroner’s Court.
Ultimately however, the MoD is still policing itself with no proper sanctions when things go disastrously wrong. Why will it not accept corporate responsibility?
Hilary Meredith, CEO at Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd, gave evidence to the Beyond Endurance Inquiry which earlier this year recommended that the MoD should be stripped of its historic immunity from prosecution when personnel are killed during training as a result of a serious failing in its duty of care.
Hilary Meredith Solicitors also represented the father of Corporate James Dunsby at the Inquest into the death of his son and two other SAS trainees (Lance-Corporal Edward Maher and Lance-Corporal Craig Roberts) who died from heat exhaustion on an endurance march in the Welsh Brecon Beacons, resulting in the Parliamentary Inquiry.