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…
(Image: Resolute Support Media)