Legal experts have warned that the government’s plans to restrict claims against the Ministry of Defence are also framed to stop service personnel seeking justice for mistreatment.
Lawyers say the MoD is being disingenuous by marketing its proposals as designed to protect members of the armed forces from being dragged before the courts by civilians making claims.
But cuts to the limitation period for making claims, and efforts to stop cases going to court, will apply across the board – including to service personnel making claims of their own against their employer for injuries suffered away from the battlefield.
The Law Society said today that legislation to weaken legal and public accountability would be misguided and risk stripping British troops and others of their rights.
Vice president David Greene said the proposals – and the MoD’s use of the term ‘lawfare’ to frame them - was ‘disingenuous and dangerous, as it gives the appearance of setting our justice system against the national interest and legitimate military action’.
The government intends to introduce a so-called no-fault compensation scheme, to stop claims going through the courts, and take away the court’s discretion to extend the three-year time limit for bringing civil claims for personal injury and/or death.
Greene added: ‘It is a principle of English law that serious crimes are not erased simply by the passage of time. It is the role of the justice system to determine independently the merit of each case, a function that is and must remain separate from government.’
The time limit on claims, he said, would be a ‘gross injustice’ to those who have dedicated their lives to their country and to innocent victims of military activities.
Gordon Dalyell, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, stressed that opponents of reform are not talking about injuries sustained in battle, but about injuries which could and should be avoided, and which may take several years to manifest, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or asbestos exposure.
‘There is no justification for why the MoD should be excused from its responsibilities to suffering veterans,’ said Dalyell. ‘The employers of civilians are held to account, and it would be perverse for our veterans and serving personnel to be denied the same access to justice.’
The MoD proposals, included in a consultation which closed over the weekend, also includes a new partial defence to murder and a presumption against prosecution for allegations against armed forces personnel relating to events that are more than a decade old.
The consultation paper also contains a commitment to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights before future conflicts.