Defence secretary Philip Hammond may be prepared to introduce legislation to prevent what he calls the ‘encroachment of judicial processes’ into the armed forces.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Hammond said current cases involving the military are potentially hampering operations.
Families were given the right to sue the Ministry of Defence following Smith and Others v Ministry of Defence , known as the Snatch Land Rover case, when the Supreme Court ruled that British troops remain within the UK jurisdiction and so fall under the Human Rights Act.
A subsequent report, entitled Fog of War, by the thinktank Policy Exchange subsequently warned the armed forces risked being ‘paralysed’ by a sustained legal assault that could have ‘catastrophic consequences’ for the safety of the nation.
Hammond has now indicated he is sympathetic to that point of view and is ready to change the law to support it. ‘There are issues about the encroachment of judicial processes into the operation of the armed forces,’ he said.
‘A number of cases currently before the courts, or pending, could have a significant impact, and we are watching them closely. We are clear that once we commit our armed forces to combat, they must be able to carry out operations without fear of constant review in the civil courts.
‘If we find that the current cases develop in a way that makes that difficult, we will come back to the House with proposals to remedy the situation.’
The Policy Exchange report said 5,827 claims were brought against the MoD in 2012/13 with an average £70,000 paid to the 205 people who made successful claims.
According to the report, the main weapon used in legal challenges to UK military operations is the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1998 Human Rights Act.
At the Conservative Party conference last September home secretary Theresa May said the Conservatives were prepared to withdraw from the ECHR entirely.