Smoke and mirrors at the MoD

Posted by Emma Norton on 14 February 2017

Liberty's Emma Norton on why the Ministry of Defence's proposed compensation scheme is about protecting itself, not soldiers.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has proposed a new compensation scheme to deal with claims by soldiers injured during combat.

Its purpose – according to the MoD – is to avoid the need for soldiers to have to go to court to have their claims dealt with. Instead those claims will be addressed on a ‘no fault’ basis, and could lead to more generous payouts.

But look more closely, and serious alarm bells start to ring.

Behind closed doors

The scheme will be run by the MoD itself, and in private. There will be no public hearings. Soldiers will not be legally represented.

Cases will not be overseen by an independent judge. There will be no independent investigation of the facts underlying each claim. And there will be no admission of responsibility.

Improving settlements for injured soldiers is a very good thing. But if the MoD is committed to that, it can do so without removing soldiers’ right to bring claims to court.

The better way would be to work co-operatively with soldiers and their legal representatives to reach early, reasonable settlements and not to drag litigation out for years.

Protecting itself

Make no mistake what this is actually about.

The Snatch Land Rover and Challenger tank cases exposed the failure of the government and MoD to adequately plan for the Iraq invasion.

The MoD fought that case all the way to the Supreme Court, and lost. It tried to argue that it owed no duty of care to provide those soldiers with safe equipment – a shocking and unforgiveable position to take.

When the MoD lost, instead of engaging with the implications of the judgment, it decided instead to change the law – to better protect itself, not the soldiers.

Soldiers deserve better

I know lots of soldiers or bereaved families of soldiers who have tried to engage with the Armed Forces when something goes wrong. Many have found that things change pretty quickly. The organisation of which they were once so proud to be a part turns on them, refuses to engage meaningfully, becomes defensive and closed.

Negotiating an internal MoD claims process without legal representation – and insecure in the knowledge that there will be no independence or a public hearing to determine their claim – is likely to leave injured and former soldiers isolated and at risk.

This latest plan is part of a way of thinking that says: “Don’t tell us what to do. We know what’s best for these soldiers. The law that applies to you should not apply to us.”

It’s a dangerous path – and soldiers deserve better.

Liberty's is campaigning to better protect and uphold the human rights of our service men and women.

Emma Norton

Emma Norton

Head of Legal Casework