Solicitor Hilary Meredith has criticised proposals by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to scrap the legal duty of care it owes to service personnel in the course of combat.
Under the proposed scheme, personnel will no longer be able to sue the MoD for negligence. Compensation would instead be awarded by an MoD-appointed assessor. The MoD said the proposals, which are being consulted on until next week, would lead to “better compensation”.
Meredith, CEO of Hilary Meredith Solicitors, said that MoD was acting like it was above the law.
“It is trying to remove the duty of care it owes to servicemen and women and replace it with its own idea of a pension akin to a court compensation award. This is ludicrous – in my 25 years of dealing with the MoD, we have never agreed on a figure at the very start of the case. The legal process simply doesn’t work like that.
“The MoD’s proposals are a blatant attempt to throw a blanket across all military operations stretching right back to Whitehall when, for example, procuring equipment for war. This means that when they send men and women to the front line with the wrong equipment the MoD won’t be “found out” as the cases won’t be made public through the courts, and Parliament and the public won’t know of the MoD’s failings.”
Meredith said that the legal process needed to be transparent and that everyone needed to be accountable and that the proposals were a retrograde step.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has also expressed fears that the latest proposals could stifle legitimate public debate and deny bereaved relatives access to justice.
Its president, Robert Bourns, said: “The Ministry of Defence wants to make it impossible for soldiers and their families to bring claims against it to court when these relate to actions in combat. Any claimant would only have recourse to an internal MoD compensation scheme that would rule on cases brought against itself.
“This means cases would not be heard by an independent judge, facts would not be independently investigated, responsibility would not be established and a state institution, if liable, would not be held to account.
“Soldiers and their families must not be shut out of our justice system. The Law Society will be responding to the MoD’s consultation to raise these and other concerns.”