Veterans line up against legal ‘witch-hunt’

Topics: Civil justice,Human rights

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  • Veterans of the Parachute Regiment protest against Bloody Sunday prosecutions.

An organisation representing former members of the armed forces today called for civil courts to lose their jurisdiction over claims brought against personnel on active service. 

UK Veterans One Voice handed in a letter to the prime minister urging him to 'stop the witch-hunt' that armed forces personnel now face 'on a daily basis'. 

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The protest comes against a background of mounting anger in the armed forces over the activities of law firms handling claims of abuse concerning British forces in Iraq, the jailing of Royal Marine Alexander Blackman for murder in 2013, and the threat of prosecutions of members of the Parachute Regiment over the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland. 

In a strong attack on ‘ambulance-chasing law firms’ defence secretary Michael Fallon last month said there was ‘a strong case’ for suspending the Human Rights Act when sending armed forces into action overseas.

The One Voice letter accuses the government of leaving soldiers ‘hung out to dry for political convenience’. It continues that, when swearing allegiance: ‘We were not informed that solicitors would make money from public-funded legal aid by dragging us and our colleagues into the courts.’

It calls for ‘an immediate statement’ that claims against individual servicemen should not go before 'any civilian court'. Rather, the letter says, the government should be accountable ‘as the government is the tool which sends the forces into action'.

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team set up by the Ministry of Defence has revealed it is examining more than 1,500 claims ranging from murder to low-level mistreatment involving British forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. 

One of the firms acting for Iraqi claimants revealed today that it had been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in connection with the Al-Sweady inquiry, which reported in 2014. London firm Leigh Day denied allegations made against it by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and described the referral as ‘premature’. 

A spokesperson said: ‘Leigh Day stands full square behind the work we have been involved in over the last 10 years to assist Iraqis who have claims in relation to abuse they say they have suffered. No one is above the law, not us, not the British army and not the government. This is the British rule of law in action and is surely what our soldiers fight to defend. 

‘The great majority of the claims that we have brought against the MoD which have concluded have been successful. The few claims that have failed are proof that the system is working.

‘Leigh Day has taken care to operate within the rules governing solicitors in terms of how it obtained work from Iraqi clients. We refute all of the allegations that have been made against us.’

Readers' comments (22)

  • I totally agree. It is high time that the organ grinder rather than the monkey, is the one who gets taken to task

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  • Ah yes, the 'I was only obeying orders' defence. Somewhat discredited by history, i think.

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  • It may be an unpopular view here but I disagree with suspending the HRA, or whatever would be the Government's intention, to prevent service personnel from being pursued.

    I agree that public funding should not be available to investigate, it should fall within the usual funding options. But the majority of service personnel will not fall foul of abuse actions and only those that have done wrong (in the eyes of the law) will be pursued.

    As usual, rather than stamping out the abuse, they would see fit to remove any repercussions for abuse so that abuse does not officially occur.

    The GOV are presenting 'ambulance-chasing law firms' to soil the name of lawyers to meet their own ends and the attacks are coming from all sides.

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  • IMO, it is only fair that the ones standing BEHIND the Curtain and reaping all the havoc, (e.g, the likes of 'Sorry there were NO WEAPONS of MASS DESTRUCTION duhhh) should also go down with the ones standing in front of it

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  • If military personnel are suspected of crimes that range up to murder is it not the remit of the ICC to investigate these rather than "ambulance chasing lawyers'. Since when have war crimes been the remit of the civil courts?

    What exactly does 'historic' mean in terms of allegations? If these are civil damages claims should they not be subject to the usual limitation periods?

    It would appear that once again political expediency is being placed above the rule of law. Any member of the British Armed Forces who commits crimes or is involved in an actionable tort should rightly be brought before the courts but not by 'special commissions' working on historic allegations. There are adequate legal provisions in place.

    This is wide open to abuse not only by the "Ambulance Chasers' but by anyone who can string together an allegation of abuse out of nothing.

    What is particularly galling here is the massive obstacles that are placed in front of our military personnel when they want to bring legal action for historic abuse.

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  • I quite agree, Anon 3.41, Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Goldsmith at the very least should all be joint defendants if any soldiers are sued or prosecuted. They lied to their cabinet colleagues, to HMG, to New Labour, to HofC, in fact to the whole world about WMD. And now we find ourselves at war with half of the middle East. And the Arab world has been set on fire from the Atlantic to the borders of China.

    That's New Labour's legacy. RIP Tony Blair et alios.

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  • I second that MM

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  • Seems also strange it's the privates that get the charges and the courts martial, rather than their commanding officers.

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  • Michael Martin, is this 'investigation' a good reason for reinstating the death penalty that you seem here to enthusiastically endorse?

    I sincerely hope that you extend the same sentiments to those who 'enthusiastically' planted bombs to blow the limbs off the young people who joined the armed forces of the UK without the desire to beat miners or torture colonial natives.

    Just out of interest which form of execution do you prefer?

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  • What a strange comment, Barry Turner.Where have I, enthusiastically or otherwise, endorsed the re-instatement of the death sentence here? I have simply stated that I find that the entirely self-interested and deathly behaviour of these people deserves to be met with a punishment equal to the fate it brought to the dispensable innocent casualties .
    It also indicates that you, a lawyer, are as unthinking and irrational about the death penalty as too many supposedly rational people. My main objection to it is that even the judges of this country (each of whom seems able to devise his/her own definition of justice, when it is in fact a societal construct) have been unable to avoid miscarriages that have only been recognised after execution. Tell me why, if someone (and an additional query, regardless of mental competence) is seen (eg CCTV) calmly raping and killing a woman and is deemed too dangerous ever to be released, should I and other taxpayers be obliged to pay to keep him incarcerated in relative comfort (or on 'bread and water, for that matter) for several decades? Give me a rational argument for that. Why should I pay for the incarceration of a repeat non-lethal offender? I have willingly paid a lifetime of taxes to provide social benefits for those who, for no fault of their own cannot (fully) provide for themselves, and there are always others, inc children, who remain deprived - why should I not be able to direct my contributions to them, even if it means insufficient life-support for the criminal? I shall be very pleased if you have a rational argument for that.

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