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Alistair Thompson: Give our troops sovereign immunity – and spare them spurious legal claims


Like many people, I have been horrified at the number of seemingly spurious and malicious legal claims being lodged against our armed forces.

Around 1,500 claims of abuse have been made to the Government-funded Iraq Historic Allegations Team. This government body, which has an enormous backlog, has already spent £57 million on investigations, finding little supporting evidence.

Indeed, a separate £37 million taxpayer-funded inquiry, which scrutinsed the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, concluded that most serious allegations, including murder, were “wholly without foundation and entirely the product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.

An example of the sort of claim being lodged comes from the Birmingham-based firm Public Interest Lawyers. They bought a case against British troops, even though, according to numerous reports, it had been accepted 11 years previously that it was Danish troops who were responsible.

Already, this law firm and another Leigh Day have received around £6 million from the taxpayer and in a delicious sense of irony are not being investigated themselves.

So the PM and the Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt are right to lead the charge on this, but why is it taking so long? Surely the simple solution would be to extend sovereign immunity to our armed forces, preventing them from being subjected to the pernicious effects of the Human Rights Act – after all they are sent to war under the Royal Prerogative.

And before the bleeding heart, sandal-wearing liberals throw their hand up in horror, this would not give carte blanche to those serving to act wickedly or against military laws and international agreements like the Geneva Convention. These would still apply.

But this simple change would exempt the armed forces from the huge number of spurious claims, such as the case of a deputy Taliban commander and a bomb maker to boot who has sued the army for detaining him longer than 96 hours.

Setting aside that no one is claiming this man is innocent, no one is claiming that he was not trying to kill or wound British and other ISAF forces, because of the lack of protection our courts are being forced to entertain such a ridiculous case.

And why does this matter? Because, as senior officers are increasingly warning, these retrospective actions are impacting the way our forces fight – changing the way commanders in the field are making decisions.

The men and women of our armed forces can no longer assume that an action, which appears legal, proportionate and even saves life in the heat of battle, cannot be picked apart years later.

It is easy for us to blame pontificating civilian judges, who denounce military decisions as illegal, a breach of human rights, because they are removed from the thick of the action – but while they should share a proportion of the blame, they are merely following the law.

So its time to exempt our brave men and women from Human Rights legislation and other daft rules that are seeing them hauled before court after, in many cases, being cleared by the military tribunals.

Extending sovereign immunity would mean that only Parliament or the Attorney General could allow a civil case to be brought. Coupled with stopping the use of the over-stretched legal aid budget, this would finally give our forces the confidence they need to get on with winning wars and protecting our country.


(Image Courtesy ResoluteSupportMedia, Flickr)

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Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson is a political campaigner and director of Team Britannia PR.

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