Human rights and health and safety could 'paralyse' military
Report warns that 'sustained legal assault' could reduce forces' ability to protect the nation
BRITAIN'S armed forces risk being "paralysed" by a "sustained legal assault" based on human rights laws and health and safety red tape, a report by a research institute claims. But what is the risk exactly and what can be done about it?
Why is the military under "sustained legal assault?
The report by Policy Exchange says that the "cash-strapped" Ministry of Defence has faced 5,827 legal claims since 2012 and spends £36m a year on lawyers. The number and severity of cases looks certain to rise following a landmark legal ruling earlier this year. It came after the families of a group of British soldiers killed in Iraq took the MoD to court arguing that it had been negligent by equipping them with Land Rovers that were vulnerable to roadside bombs. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the families could make damages claims against the MoD under human rights legislation and sue for negligence. At the time, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the ruling could make it "more difficult for troops to carry out operations", the BBC reports.
Why does it make things so difficult for commanders?
Tom Tugendhat, one of the authors of the Policy Exchange report tells The Guardian that a "series of legal steps" based on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) have gradually "undone" safeguards parliament drew up to ensure military commanders have "the freedom of manoeuvre to make vital decisions" on the ground. "The armed forces neither are, nor should be, above or exempt from the law," Tugendhat states. "But imposing civilian norms on the military is deeply misplaced. The focus on rights misunderstands the nature of armed forces. As the ultimate guarantors of a nation's liberty they have agreed, voluntarily, to surrender or limit many of their own rights. Without this the nation would be undefended."
It's not just human rights laws that have military chiefs worried:
Another author of the report, retired US Army lieutenant colonel Laura Croft, explains that "judicial incursions into military terrain" are placing "impossible burdens on the bureaucracy of military operations". Says Croft: "By setting precedents which can barely be satisfied in today's limited conflicts the courts risk paralysing themselves and the military in a war of national survival, particularly when to these are added the demands of coroners' inquests, health and safety legislation and the rights guaranteed under the ECHR."
Does everyone agree?
Certainly not. Martyn Day, a lawyer with Leigh Day, a firm which has fought numerous "high profile" cases against the MoD, calls the report "entirely biased". Day says his firm was not consulted by Policy Exchange and if it had been the report would have been "far more accurate". Day tells the Guardian: "The report states that the customs and practices of Britain's armed forces are now under threat from the law. We would argue that it is the breaking of these laws which is the greatest threat to those who 'risk all for their country'."
What does Hammond make of the report?
He has welcomed it, saying he "remains concerned" about the effect of the courts on the ability of commanders to do their job effectively. "These [court decisions] could make it more difficult for our troops to carry out operations in the future, and they potentially throw open a wide range of military decisions to the uncertainty of litigation," Hammond says. ·