21 October 2015
UK Government Plans to Shield Ministry of Defence from Legal Action
UK government ministers are planning to change the law to shield the Ministry of Defence from litigation arising from combat.
The measures are being drawn up by Whitehall officials who argue that a rise in compensation claims against the MoD in recent years is stopping soldiers from doing their jobs.
As one UK government spokesperson said, “Detailed work has begun. It will take time but we are determined to tackle this.”
What is the Government Proposing?
The measures being drawn up by the Government include:
• A temporary withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) before sending British forces into action abroad
• Taking legal action against law firms that have brought “bogus” claims against the MoD
• A time limit on legal action to stop compensation claims being made years after incidents occurred
• Incorporating a New Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act.
Legal challenges by foreign civilians against the MoD – such as those at the heart of the ill-fated Al Sweady inquiry in 2014 – seem to have prompted the Government to act, but they must remember not to allow any changes in the law to prevent legitimate military injury claims brought by existing service personnel as a result of the MoD’s breach of duty to its employees.
We have commented separately on the UK Government plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights in a separate blog, here.
If the main aim of the proposed changes to the law is to prevent “bogus” claims against the MoD, then that is to be welcomed. We urge the Government, however, to ensure that any new legislation does not deprive British armed forces personnel of the right to pursue legitimate personal injury claims against the MoD in circumstances where there is just cause and a need to bring the MoD to account.
Situations where British soldiers sue the MoD for injuries arising from a combat situation are likely to be rare – and we have recently commented on the principle of combat immunity which prevents the MoD from being sued when a senior officer makes a mistake during battle.
What must not be forgotten, however, is that the MoD is subject to the same duty of care as any other UK employer. They must take all reasonable steps to prevent their employees – the British armed forces – from sustaining injuries as a result of a breach of that duty of care, and any changes to the law must not prevent them from being held accountable in the same way as any other British employer would for an employee injured in an accident at work.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers offer a free consultation for armed forces personnel injured during military service. Most claims are funded through a No Win, No Fee Agreement which means there is no financial risk to you.
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