Liberty urges Lords to back better justice for troops by extending IPCC oversight to military police

26 October 2016

The House of Lords could take a vital step towards a fair and independent justice system for UK troops today as they debate proposals to bring the three military police forces under the civilian system of police oversight.

An amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, tabled by Liberal Democrat peers Baroness Jolly and Lord Paddick, would extend the remit of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to include oversight of military police forces – a move for which Liberty, military families and many others have called for years.

Each branch of the Armed Forces has its own internal police force – the Royal Navy Police, Royal Air Force Police and the Army’s Royal Military Police (RMP).

Their powers are similar to those of civilian forces, including to arrest, investigate crime, stop and search and use reasonable force – meaning they will at times inevitably be subject to complaints.

But while complaints against civilian police are handled by the IPCC, no such body exists for service forces – meaning those serving in the Armed Forces have no independent voice to turn to following an investigation.

Sharon Hardy, Anne-Marie Ellement and Khristina Swain

The IPCC already oversees the Ministry of Defence Police – as well as the National Crime Agency, British Transport Police, Police and Crime Commissioners, Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

It is in the interests of victims, families, the public and military police themselves that complaints are seen to be subject to genuine, independent scrutiny – and bringing the three service forces within the IPCC’s remit would save the expense of setting up a separate body and ensure trained and demonstrably independent staff.

Sara Ogilvie, Policy Officer for Liberty, said: “The Ministry of Defence cannot be allowed to keep up this toxic cycle – apologising for their failings only after grieving families have been forced to struggle for years and take legal action. Members of our Armed Forces and their families are just as deserving of justice as everyone else.

“With one common-sense change to this Bill, the Government could take a crucial step towards creating the military justice system members of our Armed Forces deserve – one that’s fair, independent and upholds their human rights.”

The case for change: Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement

The independence and competence of service police have been the cause of major public concern in recent years.

Just last week, the Royal Military Police formally apologised to the family of Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement for failing to properly investigate the allegation of rape she made two years before taking her own life. In a statement, the RMP admitted “mistakes were made” and “Anne-Marie deserved better”.

Anne-Marie was a Royal Military Police officer who alleged she had been raped by two RMP colleagues in 2009. The RMP themselves investigated the allegation before dismissing it. Anne-Marie committed suicide in 2011 having suffered bullying.

Under public pressure, an internal RMP review found the initial investigation had conformed to service standards – a conclusion also reached by a Royal Navy Police review.

It was only after Liberty threatened legal action under the Human Rights Act on behalf of Anne-Marie’s sisters that the Ministry of Defence ordered the RAF Police and Bedfordshire Constabulary to conduct a fresh investigation.

In 2015, two former RMP officers were charged with raping Anne-Marie. The Director of Service Prosecutions, announcing the charges, said the initial decision not to prosecute had been wrong.

The two men were later acquitted, but the trial judge stated: “This case should have been heard five years ago […]. The extreme delay in bringing this case to court ultimately prejudiced the defendants, Anne-Marie and justice generally”.

The failings of the RMP were responsible for this case of justice denied, and the initial investigation and successive internal reviews failed entirely to deliver accountability – but the lack of any independent scrutiny meant Anne-Marie’s family were forced to struggle for years and threaten legal action before securing a truly independent investigation.

Responding to last week’s apology, Anne-Marie’s sister Khristina Swain said: “The RMP let Anne-Marie down 100 per cent – please give her one last bit of respect and don’t fail others. Don’t let victims or families go through what our family went through. Not just the pain and grief – but having to fight just to get to the truth.”

The House of Lords will debate Baroness Jolly and Lord Paddick’s amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill from 3pm on Wednesday 26 October 2016.

Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656, 07973 831 128 or pressoffice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk.

  • Liberty’s Military Justice campaign calls for the Government to protect and uphold the human rights of those serving in the UK’s Armed Forces by embedding fairness and independence at the heart of the military justice system.
  • In its first inspection of the Royal Military Police in July 2015, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) concluded there was “insufficient public scrutiny of RMP investigations” and recommended that “The RMP should have arrangements in place to ensure its investigations are reported to the public and that some external independent body provides oversight of investigations into RMP wrongdoing”.
  • In 2014 the Defence Select Committee requested the MoD lay out a timescale for moving service police under the auspices of the IPCC.
  • Introducing the Policing and Crime Bill in the House of Commons, then Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Where the actions of a minority fall short of the high standards that the public are entitled to expect, there need to be arrangements in place so that the conduct in question can be properly looked into and the matter resolved in a timely and proportionate manner.”