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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Friendly fire - legal remedies

There are many who question the rights and the wrongs of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But regardless of those arguments we all feel for those young men who are sent to fight especially when we hear the dreaded news of another tragic loss.

These terrible events seem that much worse when the loss is caused by errors on our own side, where soldiers are killed or injured by their own forces or by inadequate equipment.

This is the issue which is being currently before the Court of Appeal. In two separate cases being heard together the Appeal Judges are considering what duties are owed by the MOD to our own forces. Corporal Stephen Albutt was killed in a friendly fire incident where it would appear that forces on his own side were at fault. Privates Phillip Hewitt and Lee Ellis, and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath were killed by roadside bombs whilst driving vehicles described as ‘inadequate’.

The Ministry of Defence argues that it should have immunity from legal actions. It says that if it can be sued for incidents arising in combat then it will be inhibited from effective operations. The contrary argument is that soldiers should be entitled to the maximum care and provision of the best equipment if they are putting their lives at risk for the sake of the state.

Surely the time has come for such immunities as this to be removed. As one of the lawyers acting for the soldiers has said –

"The Ministry of Defence continues to argue that British soldiers should be in the uniquely unfortunate position of having no human rights when deployed abroad to fight on our behalf," said Jocelyn Cockburn, one of the lawyers involved in the case. She added: "Their argument reaches even lower depths now in recognising that whilst an Iraqi citizen who is killed or injured by a UK soldier can rely on the Human Rights Act, the soldier himself cannot do so if he is given faulty equipment which leads to his own injury or death."

There may be some operational issues to be dealt with. But this cannot be used as a justification for depriving soldiers of justice, especially when they are placing their own lives in danger.

It will be interesting to see what view is taken by the appeal judges. But there is surely no place for immunity from accountability in a modern society.

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