Controversial plans to remove service personnel’s right to pursue cases through court are still alive, the government has confirmed.
The Ministry of Defence insisted this week it has not dropped plans to channel complaints from injured soldiers into an internal compensation scheme.
The plans, which effectively extend the principle of combat immunity and prevent claims coming before the court, were brought forward last December but a response to the MoD consultation has yet to materialise.
There had been speculation over the summer that proposals might be dropped, but a defence spokesman said this is not the case. He added that a response was coming ‘in due course’.
The MoD has said it will increase compensation payments for injured soldiers to make them equal to those awarded by a court. In turn, the scheme will reduce legal costs and stop claimants going through the stressful process of litigation.
Labour’s shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith told the Gazette that the government should think again before making fundamental changes to rights of redress.
‘If the intention is to give the same as claimant would be given in a court, then why not let the court make that decision? It gives you a nasty felling of another agenda which is reducing these claims,’ she said. ‘It is important to understand the judiciary are there to make a difficult judgment as to what is the appropriate redress.’
Griffith noted the issue has parallels with the dispute over employment tribunal fees, which resulted in the government being forced to back down following a Supreme Court decision this summer.
Hilary Meredith, chief executive of the eponymous solicitors’ firm, who has spent her career running cases on behalf of soldiers, said legal advice is essential not just during any claim but after compensation has been awarded.
‘The MoD, who caused the accident, are going to dictate how much is to be paid out, and also determine life expectancy, mobility and housing issues for each case,’ she said. ‘We ring-fence [the damages], make sure it is in a trust and make sure there is a Court of Protection involved if necessary.’
The proposals have been criticised by the Law Society, which warned the compensation scheme would create a ‘David and Goliath situation where the MoD would be both judge and jury’.