Victory for Liberty’s Military Justice campaign as Parliament agrees new independent Armed Forces Ombudsman

09 March 2015

Today MPs approved plans to create an independent Service Complaints Ombudsman as a Government amendment to the Armed Forces Bill – based on Liberty-backed proposals made in Committee – passed its final parliamentary stage.

Changes mean that the ombudsman will be able to investigate the substance of the service complaint rather than just look at allegations of maladministration in the handling of a complaint. These changes were initially proposed in Parliament by members of the Defence Select Committee.

The 2013 Armed Forces Attitudinal Survey reported that 10 per cent of service personnel felt they had been the subject of discrimination, harassment or bullying in the service environment in the previous 12 months – yet only 0.8 per cent of soldiers made a formal written complaint. The Defence Select Committee has also expressed concern that military staff do not always have confidence to pursue a complaint through the chain of command.

In his independent review into the deaths of four young soldiers at Deepcut Barracks, Nicholas Blake QC recommended the creation of an Armed Forces Ombudsman as “the only effective means by which confidence can now be fully restored and public trust maintained in the future”.

Sara Ogilvie, Policy Officer for Liberty, said:

"We are delighted that the Government supported these proposals for an effective, transparent and independent Service Complaints Ombudsman. It is only right that the Ombudsman should investigate the substance of a complaint rather than just maladministration.

"Military life is different, but that doesn't mean our Armed Forces should settle for second-rate justice."

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  1. The amendments made by the Government clarify that the ombudsman can only look at a service complaint once it has been through internal complaints processes.  But the ombudsman can consider allegations of delay in the handling of a complaint or looking at a service matter where the final internal decision has not yet been made.  The amendments also clarify that the ombudsman has the power to investigate any maladministration rather than just the one complained of if she identifies errors in the handling of the complaint that the complainant didn’t raise. This is an issue that the Service Complaints Commissioner had raised with the Government.