Liberty criticises MoD on new plans over negligence claims

By agency reporter
March 2, 2017

The civil liberties and human rights organisation Liberty has called on the Ministry of Defence to drop plans to prevent servicemen and women from suing it for negligence, branding them “nakedly self-serving” in its response to the Government’s consultation on the measures.

Proposals for a new compensation scheme would bar soldiers and their families from seeking justice in an independent court when they or their loved ones suffer injury or death, meaning serious negligence or failings on the MoD’s part would never be brought to light.

They would instead be required to make applications through an internal compensation scheme, with rulings made by the MoD or MoD-appointed decision-makers, and a presumption that servicemen and women will have no paid legal representation.

The consultation also proposes expanding the definition of combat immunity. Combat immunity is important in preventing commanders and other soldiers from being pursued for decisions and actions taken during the extremely difficult circumstances of war.

But, under the guise of protecting troops, the MoD is seeking to extend that definition to cover its own failings far beyond the battlefield – such as its failure to procure adequate equipment or provide proper training.

Liberty campaigns for the rights of soldiers to be properly protected and upheld, and has represented many servicemen and women, and their families, in seeking answers, justice and change – exposing major MoD failings in the process.

In all cases, Liberty’s clients have not found transparency, openness and a willingness to admit mistakes from the MoD. Instead, they have been forced to fight for the truth in tragic and difficult circumstances, facing opposition at every turn.

Sara Ogilvie, Policy Officer at Liberty, said: “The Defence Secretary rightly says we owe a moral obligation to those who serve our country – but these plans to deny them access to our courts and treat their lives as less valuable than those of civilians expose his bluff.

“Soldiers deserve the right to sue their employers when they are wronged, just like the rest of us. These nakedly self-serving proposals are an insult to our troops and their families, and benefit no one but politicians and MoD planners. They must be dropped.”

Liberty's response to the consultation highlights that:

  • These proposals are not about protecting combat immunity. They would expand the current and long-established definition, and are intended to make it easier for the MoD to evade the accountability that troops, their families and the public deserve, denying soldiers justice and avoiding the need to learn important lessons from their failings.
  • Under these proposals, previous cases in which major MoD failures were exposed could not have happened – and future soldiers would be put at risk. Challenges like those taken by the Snatch Land Rover and Challenger tank families exposed serious failings by the MoD to public scrutiny. Their huge benefits to the public interest and the interests of our soldiers could well not have come to light were these plans in place.
  • At the core of our democracy is that no one – the Government included – can judge their own cases. Under these proposals, soldiers and their families would be banned from having cases heard by independent judges, and instead have their complaints buried in an internal, secret process overseen by the MoD itself.
  • It is borderline nonsensical to argue – as the Government does – that the scheme would make the same award as a court would in the absence of a judge assessing the case. In fact, it is highly likely the scheme will deliver lower compensation awards, while shutting down any need for the MoD to learn from its mistakes. If the Government was sincere in wishing to improve the system for our soldiers and their families, it would learn lessons from successful legal challenges and take steps to make sure future soldiers are better treated – not bring the shutters down.
  • The Government attempts to justify its proposals by arguing that litigation can be lengthy, frustrating and costly for troops and families – but much of this problem is created by the MoD itself, which frequently insists on resisting claims and aggressively defending cases in court, at great cost to the taxpayer and causing huge emotional strain.

Liberty says its response also raises a number of glaring legal inaccuracies in the Government's paper.

* Read the government's consultation here and Liberty's response here

* Liberty https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/

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