Hilary Meredith has said that Government proposals for better combat compensation are in breach of the military covenant and will result in servicemen and women being shut out of the justice process.
Meredith, chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors, the firm that is best known for its work on behalf of the armed forces, made her comments after The House of Commons debated the proposals on 20 July.
Under the proposals, combat immunity – which provides an exemption from legal liability for members of the armed forces and the government – would apply to all claims brought by those in combat, even when failings occurred far from the battlefield.
An enhanced compensation scheme will be set up for current and former members of the armed forces and their entitled family members who will be precluded from suing the government for negligence under the terms of the proposed exclusion of liability.
In essence, argued Meredith, The Ministry of Defence (MoD), plans to scrap the legal duty of care it owes to service personnel, which has been in force since Parliament repealed section 10 of the Armed Forces Act 1987.
Meredith said that the new system would be closed and opaque and would “tilt everything in the Government’s favour”.
“We cannot allow servicemen and women to be shut out of the justice system,” she said.
“It is simply not right to allow the MoD to create a David and Goliath situation where it is both judge and jury.
“These proposals are discriminatory to armed forces personnel. They are also in breach of the armed forces covenant.”
Mike Kane, MP for Wythenshawe & Sale East, who also shares Meredith’s concerns, aired his fears during the Commons debate.
“I find it hard to believe, both legally and morally, that the MoD should be allowed to legislate its way out of this duty of care,” he said.
“If the MoD, as an employer, can legislate its way out of a duty of care to our armed forces, where does this stop? Will other employers be next? The Fire Service? The Police Force? Where will it end?
“Combat immunity, which is currently interpreted by the courts, is there to protect military operations when thinking is impaired in the heat of battle. It does not – and should not – apply to procurement decisions made back at Whitehall, where equipment procured for our troops, subsequently turns out to be faulty or unsuitable.
“Why should a decision about equipment or training, made from a desk in Whitehall, not be subject to the same scrutiny as similar decisions about specialist training or equipment made by other employers?”