Veterans line up against legal ‘witch-hunt’
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'.
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.’