Mrs May, it’s time for you to sort out the law for our armed forces

Friday’s Telegraph reported that, on Thursday, Mrs May told Defence Chiefs “to make every effort” to prevent abuse of the legal system by lawyers suing British servicemen over events in Iraq (and, presumably, Afghanistan).

Excellent start, and I hope that the Defence Chiefs immediately cease the current 1,500 investigations, consign them all to the shredder and redeploy the resources to defending the Realm.

However, it is not the role of the Armed Forces to regulate the operation of UK law.

The problem arises because of fears that if the UK does not investigate claims, they may instead be investigated by the UN’s International Criminal Court (although this has never actually happened). This has led the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, to advise that ceasing the current inquiries might be risky. Mrs May needs to have a word in his ear.

She should start by pointing out that the ICC is a UN body that has less than unanimous support and membership. The USA, Israel, Iraq, China, Russia and India are all not signatories. Why is the UK? (Answer: some deluded concept of ethical foreign policy invented by St Tone). Perhaps we should leave.

She could go on to point out that the UK armed forces are regulated by the Armed Forces Act, passed every 5 years, last time in 2011 and a Bill is currently before Parliament. The Armed Forces Act makes any UK offence an offence under the act. Last time I checked, murder, detention without trial, rape and the rest were all UK offences. The point, therefore, is that the British armed forces are perfectly well regulated. Ask (ex) Sergeant Blackman, who is currently in jail for shooting a prisoner in Afghanistan, or those members of the Army who were prosecuted for failings in Abu Ghraib.

On that basis, she could suggest that Mr Wright mans up, and informs the ICC (and the world) that as far as the UK is concerned its armed forces operate to the highest professional, ethical and legal standards and are perfectly capable of maintaining them.

She might also invite him to note that while MPs have the legal cost of any action against them arising from their duties covered by the State, soldiers have a means-tested form of legal aid. So the MPs who sent them to war are safe from the financial consequences – but Tommy Atkins is not. Perhaps a change to the law is necessary.

Surely she will not have to remind him of the problems of double jeopardy, exacerbated by the evidential problems of dealing with incidents some time ago with an absence of witnesses. Or to point at the ludicrously expensive fiasco of the Saville Enquiry.

She could also point out that the majority of the actions threatened have been brought by two firms. One is already closed (due Legal Aid finding accounting problems). The other, Leigh Day, is under investigation for “irregularities” in the handling of some cases.

While she is at it she should also suggest that the Attorney General reminds the Law Society (the solicitor’s trade union) that the rule of law is not the rule of lawyers. Moreover, she could invite him to point out to them that if access to law is unaffordable, justice is threatened. Perhaps all lawyers should be required to perform (say) 200 hours work per year free, pro bono? Or perhaps Parliament, whose concerns included justice, the law and the economy, should set the rate for all lawyers.

She could end by pointing out that world class armed forces are very rare and hard to replace. Lawyers are three a penny…

NOTE – I am now proud and delighted to be a regular blogger about defence matters on The Conservative Woman  where this post first appeared.  If you like this you may well like some of the other posts on TCW so click here and have a look

3 thoughts on “Mrs May, it’s time for you to sort out the law for our armed forces”

  1. Paddy

    As ever , clearly and cogently advanced.

    Slightly tangential but are we now in the grip of the egocentricity of politics? We all appear content to personalise that which has been for centuries legislation by Cabinet but now seems to be reduced to the efforts, thoughts and will of one woman or man.

    In Germany we ignore the efforts of countless ministers and refer to the wish of the Bund as that of Mrs Merkel. In the UK in recent decades we have increasingly imbued the Tory or Labour leader with the single -handed force of personality to govern our country, dictate its foreign policy and so on, When did this strange cult of personality become so strong and when will we recognise that it is parties not individuals that are voted in to govern at our behest.

    Thus whilst it is correct to abjure the current Government to wake up and act like a strong First World country in the face of the UN and other exterior bodies, it is folly to seek Mrs May -the Nation’s nanny- to take the AG to task, Cabinet must and should have a collective view and will to act thus; put to vote and minuted post discussion.
    Am I alone in finding media commentary that states ” Mrs May this and Mrs May that” vexatious in the extreme, “Safe” yes but, thus far, memorable or meriting praise beyond her being in place instead of Boris?

    Why have we collectively accepted this strange cultish behaviour? We, the voter, did not in fact elect Mrs May to be leader of the Conservatives or Prime Minister so the very least we should do is demand collegiate responsibility for the actions of Cabinet and pay less obsequy to the dangerous cult of the individual whose personal opinion ought not to matter when the country’s greater good is a stake.

    Mrs May need not have the slightest idea of what to demand of the AG, but we have a right to demand she instructs her Cabinet to take the necessary steps to protect our Armed Forces from the predations currently visited upon them.


  2. Patrick

    That is a fair criticism., and I entirely sympathise with your view.

    You will, of course, have noticed that this was first posted on The Conservative Woman, and their style is to attach comments to political personalities if and when appropriate.

    There is a wider point, which is that until Mrs May restores cabinet government, if that is possible, it’s the cabinet cabinet that she picked, and their performance is her responsibility.


    1. Paddy

      In the interests of clarity – and fairness-I completely agree with your main Blog points but I genuinely feel concern that we are somehow conspiring in the “cult of The Premier” in not commenting about this weird obsession with an unelected PM. The Conservative Women are justly proud that she has emerged as the Boss but surely her advisors would be wise to counsel her not to play to the gallery on this issue.

      I trust you are well and thriving ; keep up the great work.

      Paddy DN


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