Lord Thomas of Gresford debates involving the Ministry of Defence during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 14th Dec 2021
Armed Forces Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Wed 8th Dec 2021
Armed Forces Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 23rd Nov 2021
Armed Forces Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage
Tue 2nd Nov 2021
Wed 27th Oct 2021
Armed Forces Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage
Tue 7th Sep 2021
Armed Forces Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Mon 26th Apr 2021
Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 13th Apr 2021

Armed Forces (Court Martial) (Amendment) Rules 2024

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(6 days, 15 hours ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe (Con)
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My Lords, I respond to the regulations by saying that I very much support the proposals. I do so having compared the process for court martial with that for discharge from the Royal Navy on medical grounds. The latter is the most inhumane and unfair process that I have ever come across. I ask the Committee’s leave to bear with me for a few moments so that I can put on record why I am unashamedly using this opportunity to speak on court martial to alert the Minister to the truth about the process applied to serving personnel who may not be operating at full capacity in the Navy due to an illness, an illness that was most likely contracted or occurred while in service.

The key point is that a court martial allows serving personnel to be represented and the opportunity to make his or her case to rebut the charges in person. In contrast, the Royal Navy’s employability board acts behind closed doors, even when someone has asked, with detailed reasons and letters of support from others within the Navy and the medics, for his or her case to be reviewed. Instead of an interview with serving personnel in person, in the first instance, the board sends out what it calls a signal, which means an alert for a line manager to call an individual and say, “You’re discharged”. The line manager then informs that individual that they are discharged and because the line manager most probably does not know what the process is because he or she has not been told, he or she unknowingly gives the individual incorrect advice about an appeal process and timing.

No reasons or explanation for the discharge are given at that point, so an individual who wishes to appeal that decision is up against a time limit and cannot know what they are appealing against. Eventually—too late—a letter couched in the most appalling, unpleasant language arrives in the Navy post. It basically writes someone off, even if that individual has skills, experience and capabilities of which we know the Navy is in dire need. The result is that years of training, service, commitment and adaptability are wasted, and an individual who has served his or her country is devastated, on the floor. No one has even bothered to sign that letter.

If the individual asks for their case to be reviewed and submits detailed reasons, again, there is no interview by the employability board and no consideration of a possible transfer to other branches to utilise experience and capabilities, attributes that may be supported by others in the Navy who work with and know the applicant. No reference is made where an individual who has moved heaven and earth to return to 100% fitness, most probably at their own expense, confirms a marked improvement or an expectation of full recovery in the short term. No reasons are given in the event that the review is unsuccessful. Another signal just goes out to the line manager stating “no change”.

Will the Minister therefore take time to meet me so that I can share in more detail this unacceptable and frankly shocking truth? I believe it sends a terrible message, not least to all those who have signed up to the Armed Forces covenant. In a court of law, that message would not stand up to the most basic principles of transparency and fairness, coupled with the accountability of the board.

I close by confirming that no armed forces personnel, serving or veteran, are aware of my decision to make this statement today.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness’s speech. I hope that she has my success in dealing with the Navy. Many years ago, I put down a Question to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who was then in the Ministry of Defence, about the practice of marching the defendant in a court martial into the court at the point of a cutlass. I thought that that was perhaps not appropriate when there is the presumption of innocence and that it was not appropriate in our day and age. Between putting down the Question and getting the Answer, the ancient custom was abolished for all time.

It is a privilege to be debating with the noble Earl, Lord Minto. I am sure he does not remember this, but we last exchanged words at the gate of his home, Minto House in Scotland. He may remember that I expressed my huge admiration for his ancestor, the first Earl of Minto, who was a very liberal governor-general of India and a wonderful politician for whom I have the greatest respect and about whom I have written a lot. So it is a pleasure to be in the noble Earl’s company again.

I declare an interest as the president of the Association of Military Court Advocates, although I am not speaking on its behalf and the views I express are not the considered view of that association.

As the noble Earl said, this draft SI derives from Sections 304D and 304E, which were inserted into the Armed Forces Act 2006 by the Armed Forces Act 2016. That was eight years ago, not now, so perhaps the Minister can explain why it has taken eight years for the appropriate secondary legislation to be put in place.

Section 304D applies where the review is to consider a reduction of a sentence for co-operation or assistance. Section 304E applies where a person has been given a discount on sentence but has failed to co-operate. In my experience in the Crown Court, the common law position was that, where a convicted person wished to take advantage of any assistance he may have given or was offering to the prosecution, a “text”—it was commonly called that—was prepared by the police or the prosecution and handed to the judge in chambers. This was a secretive procedure, and usually the defendant had to rely upon the good faith of the police or the security services. He did not see the text and the judge did not refer to it in court. Your Lordships will appreciate that giving assistance to the investigating authorities is positively dangerous for a person who has been sentenced and is serving a prison sentence.

This clandestine procedure was given statutory force in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, as amended by the Sentencing Act 2020. I note that the Explanatory Memorandum does not refer to the 2020 Act, and I wonder whether it was prepared in 2016, in the light of the Armed Forces Act, prior to the amendments to SOPA.

The civilian provisions in SOPA introduced the possibility of a review of a sentence after it had been passed and while it was being served. They involve a careful series of steps to be taken by prosecutors, and the consideration of a number of factors by the court. To qualify for a review of his sentence, the offender may offer to give King’s evidence, as it is called, in a subsequent trial of his associates, or he may simply provide intelligence of their activities, or both. In most cases, the anonymity of the prisoner is maintained for obvious reasons. Copious and lengthy guidance notes for prosecutors are published by the Crown Prosecution Service, covering a variety of topics, including the criteria for allowing a review, the obtaining of a written agreement, the conduct of interviews, the need to inform the police or other investigating authority of the proposal, the documents to be supplied to the court and so on. My first question is: will the Service Prosecuting Authority or the Director of Service Prosecutions rely on those guidance notes, or will specific Service Prosecuting Authority guidance be published?

Armed Forces Bill

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford
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At end insert “and do propose Amendment 1D as an amendment in lieu—

1D: Page 4, line 27, at end insert—
“(4A) Guidance under subsection (3)(a) must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civilian court unless, by reason of the circumstances, including but not limited to specific naval or military complexity involving the service, trial by court martial is directed by—
(a) in England and Wales, the Director of Public Prosecutions, after consultation with the Attorney General;
(b) in Scotland, the Lord Advocate;
(c) in Northern Ireland, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, after consultation with the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.””
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, the Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, speaking on “Today” this morning, said:

“I’m proud of our tradition of freedom in this country. We believe in liberty under the rule of law … We want to reinforce our typical British liberties like freedom of speech, the liberty that guards all the others … trial by jury, that’s a common-law right, very much part of the British tradition.”


In another part of the thicket, the Defence Secretary, Mr Ben Wallace, is seemingly against trial by jury and is acting contrary to the advice of his advisers and the judgment of his departmental Ministers, as Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans until April of this year, told us last week. Mr Wallace refuses to accept that, where charges are brought against a person subject to service law for serious cases of murder, manslaughter, rape or serious sexual offences allegedly committed in the United Kingdom by a person subject to service law, there should be a presumption that the accused should have the “common-law right” to trial by jury. Let us spell it out clearly again. If you join the services, you lose the common-law right to trial by jury—which is very much part of the British tradition, as Mr Raab would have it.

In the Commons last week, Sarah Atherton, the Member of Parliament for Wrexham, who has made her way up from the ranks of the Intelligence Corps to the green Benches in the other place and to the chair of the defence sub-committee charged with studying this issue, voted against her own Government and in so doing lost her ministerial appointment.

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I think the noble and learned Lord overlooks the tradition of the service justice system and why we have such a system. That has been one of its characteristics over decades: that is the character of the system. It exists to serve a particular purpose, which most people in this Chamber acknowledge, and that is why it has different characteristics from the civilian justice system.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has contributed to this debate. Many fine words have been said and two issues have really come forward. The first is the denial of the right to trial by jury to members of the Armed Forces—they sign away that right when they join up. This issue will not go away but will rumble on and on.

The second issue relates to victims and the problems so clearly delineated to Sarah Atherton’s committee. She had representations from more than 4,000 women serving in the Armed Forces, all going the same way. Indeed, one person from an NGO which helps them said she was looking after 600 servicewomen, none of whom wanted trial by court martial; all wanted their right to have a trial in the ordinary courts so that the alleged transgressors could be brought to justice in the ordinary way.

This is absolutely fundamental to the constitution of this country. Regarding what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, said a moment ago, in his press release today Mr Raab talked about the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Slave Trade Act and so on, calling them to his aid in supporting the right to trial by jury. It is a simple point.

I am very conscious that there are good things in this Bill that I have worked for for ages, such as majority verdicts in courts martial. I do not want to see this Bill fail, nor do I want the military to be let loose at this particular time by this Bill falling for lack of time. Therefore, I do not propose to press my amendment, but I hope we will come back to this issue. I hope that that will not be in five years’ time with our next Armed Forces Bill but that, once statistics emerge and show us the true situation, the Government will have the guts to admit that they were wrong.

This is not a historic thing going back decades. Jurisdiction was given to courts martial to try murder, manslaughter and rape in 2006, so this is barely 15 years old. Consequently, it is not a great military tradition— if it is being presented in that way. Up until that time, the service justice system insisted that offences committed by servicemen in the United Kingdom, on the soil of this country, should be tried in the ordinary courts. I hope we get back to that very quickly. I will not press the matter and beg leave to withdraw Motion A1.

Motion A1 withdrawn.

Armed Forces Bill

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford
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At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 1B in lieu—

1B: Page 4, line 27, at end insert—
“(4A) Guidance under subsection (3)(a) must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civilian court unless, by reason of the circumstances, including but not limited to specific naval or military complexity involving the service, the Director of Public Prosecutions, after consultation with the Attorney General, directs trial by court martial.””
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I will start with a quotation. In the Ministry of Defence

“there is one individual who is refusing to back down from the alleyway he has found himself in.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 105.]

Those are the words of the former Defence Minister Johnny Mercer, speaking in the debate in the other place on Monday night, on the amendment that we sent. He had earlier said:

“Unfortunately, I was in the room when this decision was made. The evidence did not support the Secretary of State at the time and the evidence does not support the Secretary of State today. I cannot vote against the Lords amendment; it is not the right thing to do. Let me be clear: when the Secretary of State made that decision”—


the issue that we are discussing today—

“it was against the advice of the officials in the Department and against the advice of his Ministers.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 104.]

Unusually, the veil is lifted. Mr Mercer clearly identifies Mr Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State for Defence, as the man in the alleyway who, against the advice of his officials and his Ministers, persists in resisting this amendment. The Minister knows that I have always assumed that she would not, in her personal capacity, back the Government’s position—but now we have direct evidence from Mr Mercer, her former colleague.

I could leave it at that. I could await the storm of protest from victims whose cases are dismissed at court martial, who will come forward brandishing the Judge Lyons review and the recommendations, after considerable investigation, contained in Sarah Atherton’s report, published last July, to which I have referred at every stage—Sarah Atherton being the only Conservative Member of Parliament ever for Wrexham.

I doubt that the controversy when those protests are made will improve Mr Wallace’s or the Government’s standing with the public on the highly sensitive issue of sexual offences, but I have a deep concern that the reputation of the service justice system in the UK should not be sullied.

On Monday afternoon, I took part in an international forum organised by my friend Professor Eugene Fidell of Yale University, founder and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice in the United States. The forum meets regularly. On this occasion, we considered the way that sexual offences are dealt with in the Canadian military. This is a live issue in many jurisdictions. I had hoped that the United Kingdom would show the way, but I will remind the House of some of the UK statistics that were before the other place.

The Atherton committee interviewed many in search of evidence. Some 64% of the more than 4,000 service- women who submitted evidence to the committee stated that they had experienced sexual harassment, rape, bullying or discrimination while serving in the Armed Forces. Over the past five years, the average conviction rate for rape in civilian courts, from Ministry of Justice data, is 34%. Over the same five years, from using the data of the MoD, it is just 16%. The Minister told us that it was 15% for courts martial over the last six months. If you use Crown Prosecution Service data, the figures are even worse.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for taking this point of correction. The statistic I gave him for cases of rape prosecuted in courts martial in the last six months shows a conviction rate of just under 50%.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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Obviously, I misheard the noble Baroness. I will continue. As I said on Report, I am not aware of any murders committed in the UK by service personnel that have been tried by court martial. Of course, that could have happened only since 2006, when the novel change to concurrent jurisdiction was introduced. I have noted two cases of manslaughter arising from deaths at the Castlemartin range in west Wales, in live firing exercises, which involved the organisation of training activities, but I am not aware of any trials of sexual offences at court martial in the UK where the victim was a civilian. If there were any, I shudder to think of the effect on a civilian complainant of giving her evidence in intimate detail, against a serviceman, to a panel of uniformed officers, at a court martial.

Until now, the verdict of a court martial in such a case would have been by a simple majority, but I welcome the changes in this Bill that lead to a different situation. Imagine the difficulty of a junior service woman or man making a complaint of rape to her or his commanding officer, particularly if the alleged offender is senior to them in the chain of command, as is often the case. In addition to all the stresses and strains that already dissuade many women in civilian life from complaining, she, a servicewoman, has to face the effect on her career, an appearance before a board of senior officers, very low chances of conviction and the possibility that, in the event of an acquittal, the terms of her service will keep her in contact with her attacker. At least in a civilian court, the jury, to whom she would give her sensitive and difficult evidence, is 12 anonymous people drawn from the public. They will have no effect on her career and she is most unlikely ever to see them again—contrast that with giving evidence of sexual offences before a court martial.

Sir Robert Neill, with all his experience and wisdom, pointed out in the other place on Monday that the normal safeguards that apply in these cases in civilian courts are not yet available in the courts martial, in both the investigatory and procedural stages. Again, I draw the Minister’s attention to the effect upon the recruitment and retention of women in the Armed Forces. Would you expose your daughter to the probability that she will be subject to sexual harassment and worse, without the protection of a satisfactory service justice system?

I listened to the debate in the other place, and my amendment in lieu has changes. Objection was made to the role ascribed to the Attorney-General. The Minister has made a similar objection in this House, and I have to admit that I had assumed that the Ministry of Defence and the Members in another place appreciated the constitutional position of the Attorney-General. It is one of his functions to supervise the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of Service Prosecutions and to be answerable in Parliament for them and their decisions. Hence it was Judge Lyons’ recommendation that the AG’s consent should be sought for the trial by a court martial of murder, manslaughter, rape and serious sexual offences committed in the UK. I agreed with his position: it represents the correct status of the Attorney-General in this country.

However, if the consent of the Attorney-General is the problem, this amendment in lieu leaves decisions about trial venue in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions—but only after consultation with the Attorney-General. The DPP would naturally consult the DSP, but, as the Minister, Mr Leo Docherty, made clear on Monday evening, it is the DPP’s decision in the end.

I say to the Conservative Benches that, if they vote against my amendment, they would be voting merely for the stubborn man in the alleyway, in Johnny Mercer’s words. They would be voting against the views of the officials in the Ministry of Defence and the departmental Ministers at the time that this was first considered, against the leading recommendation—number 1—of Judge Lyons and, above all, against the passionate findings of the Conservative Member of Parliament and her cross-party committee. Sarah Atherton—the only women in history to have risen from the ranks of the Armed Forces to become a Member of the House of Commons—knows what she is talking about. I ask those opposite not to vote against this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab)
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My Lords, I am disappointed that the Government are maintaining their opposition to civilianising the courts martial for serious cases, such as murder, manslaughter and rape. The conviction rate for rape alone is 16% in the military courts, as reflected in the remarks from Mr Johnny Mercer in the other place. The Minister has given certain other figures for the last six months. I am very interested in this. Perhaps she could give me the size of the sample when she is winding up? Perhaps we could have a bigger sample, perhaps of a year. I would have thought that these figures alone would cause concern that something was wrong.

Service personnel do not have the statutory protection that other people have when they are tried in ordinary criminal courts or the statutory protections that are embedded in law to ensure that, where there is a majority direction, it is made known, the numbers are made known, and everyone knows where they stand. Nothing of that kind happens in courts martial. According to the Minister on a previous occasion, in some cases—they may be small in number—a verdict of 2:1 is certainly not in conformity with modern criminal jurisprudence.

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank your Lordships for, as ever, interesting and thoughtful contributions on both issues being debated this afternoon, particularly Motions A1 and B1. I will first address the comments made in relation to Motion A1. By way of preface, it is worth noting that this matter was debated and decided in the other place by an authoritative and substantial majority. Notwithstanding that, I will endeavour in my remarks to engage your Lordships and repeat why the Government hold to the position they do. I am grateful for the further comments made.

Perhaps I should clarify to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who seemed to doubt my commitment to the matters of the service justice system, that I and the Government are convinced of the wisdom of retaining unqualified concurrent jurisdiction for murder, manslaughter and rape—I want to make that crystal clear. I remind your Lordships that, contrary to what some contributions indicated, that view is supported by a distinguished former High Court judge, Sir Richard Henriques.

I was also interested to note that remarks from a number of your Lordships with very senior and impressive legal backgrounds seemed to be addressed exclusively to England and Wales. With all respect, the service justice system that we all admire and revere has to extend across the whole of the UK and must reflect the different systems within it. Military justice must be universal across the UK and the proposal in the Bill achieves that end in a way in which the noble Lord’s amendment does not.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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Perhaps I might challenge the Minister on that. If the civil jurisdiction is to be used for an offence committed in Scotland or Northern Ireland, court martials then become immaterial—so there is no problem, as the Minister seems to think. This point has not been raised at any stage of the Bill until today. There is no problem if the ordinary courts of Scotland and Northern Ireland are to deal with offences which occur within that jurisdiction. The question of whether a person is in the military or not is then irrelevant; the offences will be dealt with as usual.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Yes, but with all respect, I say to the noble Lord that that is not the essence of the issue. The essence is instead how you create a service justice system which can operate across the United Kingdom and ensure that, when discussions take place with the appropriate civilian prosecutors, appropriate decisions are reached on the correct jurisdiction for the case. That might be, within the service justice system, convening in Scotland, but under the noble Lord’s amendment there is clearly a desire to bias the whole service justice system in respect of England and Wales to the civilian system, and I am saying that that introduces a disparity or fracture of the United Kingdom service justice system. That is what the Government find unacceptable.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, raised an important point—

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I have to say to the noble and learned Lord that I am afraid I do not have information available. I gave him the statistics provided to me, but I will undertake to ascertain that information and write to him.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I will pursue that for a moment. The number of cases heard in courts martial is probably fewer than 10 for sexual offences, or at least fewer than 20. I cannot imagine that in six months, we deal with more than four or five cases, but no doubt we will be told in due course. Over a five-year period, the figure is 16% for convictions, as opposed to the civil conviction rate of 34%—shocking as that conviction rate is in any event.

On the point about Scotland and Northern Ireland—never raised before Monday night in the course of this Bill, either here or in the other place—the principle that this amendment sets down is quite simple:

“Guidance … must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civilian court”—


it does not say “in the Crown Court” in this country—

“unless by reason of the circumstances … the Director of Public Prosecutions, after consultation with the Attorney General, directs trial by court martial.”

If it is necessary to cover that by putting “after consultation with the Lord Advocate in Scotland” or whoever is the chief authority in Northern Ireland, that can be done in 30 seconds—if you let me loose for that period of time.

No answer has been given, and we are faced with what Johnny Mercer said:

“there is one individual who is refusing to back down from the alleyway”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/21; col. 105.]

This is not proper policy for the Conservative Party. It will face, as a party, the complaints of people who have been subjected to sexual violence but whose cases have not been upheld. It will arise, and it will be to the advantage of other parties. So, I plead that the amendment be supported in this case. I beg to move.

Armed Forces Bill

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
I believe that every soldier, sailor and airman—and their female counterparts—should have the same rights as civilians to a trial by a jury of 12, with all the statutory protections for majority verdicts, which time has proved work well in ensuring both just and timely verdicts. There is no such provision in court martials. It may well be, as the Minister said, that verdicts of two to one occur in a small number of less serious cases, but they have no place in modern criminal jurisprudence. Neither does a system whereby the most junior member of a court martial is asked to give his verdict first. This is even more important now, given the provisions in Schedule 1 for the constitution of court martials to include other ranks. Every service person should have the same protection for his or her day in court as a civilian counterpart. Our forces are now much closer to those in civilian life than they were and should have the same rights, hallowed and developed over centuries, as civilians have, and it is with pleasure that I support Amendment 2.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, for his support, and I congratulate him on the attempts that he has made over a long time to civilianise military law. I am pleased that he mentioned Lord Elwyn-Jones, who admitted me to the rank of Queen’s Counsel in the Moses Room rather a long time ago.

The issue in Amendment 2 is: should members of the Armed Forces accused of murder, manslaughter, rape or other sexual offences alleged to have been committed within the United Kingdom be tried by court martial or in ordinary courts? The Mutiny Act 1689, in the reigns of William and Mary, laid down the principle that there should be annual renewals of the Armed Forces Act. The recital to it said:

“No man may be forejudged of life or limb, or subjected … to any kind of punishment … by martial law, or in any other manner than by the judgment of his peers and according to the known and established laws of this realm.”


That is the sentiment that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, has just enunciated, and it is a principle derived from the Magna Carta.

But this recital in the Act contained an exception to that stirring principle. In respect of

“every person being mustered and in pay as an officer or soldier in their Majesty’s service, who excited, caused or joined in any mutiny or sedition in the Army, or deserted their Majesty’s service”,

the punishment was death.

The other means of disciplining service personnel was under the Articles of War, issued under the King’s sign-manual, but only for the purpose of operations abroad, particularly in the colonies, not in the United Kingdom.

The Mutiny Act applied throughout Great Britain and Ireland, so that even in peacetime a soldier mutinying or deserting would be tried and punished under martial law, not civil law, and without the protections offered through civil law procedures.

The great jurist Sir William Blackstone, writing in 1765, was incensed that soldiers should be dealt with by court martial in peacetime and regretted that

“a set of men, whose bravery has so often preserved the liberties of their country, should be reduced to a state of servitude in the midst of a nation of freemen!”

When, in 2006, therefore, the Labour Government introduced into their Armed Forces Act a provision which permitted the trial of service personnel by court martial for serious offences committed in this country—a course which I strongly opposed at the time—they were going against centuries of history. The serviceman was now open to court martial for any offence, including murder, manslaughter and rape, even when committed in the United Kingdom. Importantly, he had lost the right to be tried by an ordinary jury of 12 of his peers and was subject to the verdict and punishment of up to seven officers, arrived at by a simple majority.

That is enough history; we must look at the position now, in 2021. We have before us the strong recommendation of His Honour Judge Lyons in his review. As it happens, his first recommendation is that the court martial jurisdiction should no longer include murder, manslaughter and rape when those offences are committed in the United Kingdom, except with the consent of the Attorney-General. The Defence Sub-committee under Sarah Atherton, Member of Parliament for Wrexham, published its report in July, entitled Protecting Those who Protect Us. That report calls urgently for the implementation of His Honour Judge Lyons’s recommendation.

It is true that, in his recent report, Sir Richard Henriques accepted concurrent jurisdiction, as it is called, but the reason he gives is that there may be cases which occur both abroad and in this country, and consequently a single trial would be preferable. That reason would not have any force in respect of murder cases, where there is universal jurisdiction.

I do not believe that a murder case, for a murder committed in the United Kingdom, has been dealt with by way of court martial since 2006. However, I have been able to trace two cases where charges of manslaughter by negligence occurring in this country were tried in that way, both relating to the Castlemartin range in west Wales. In the most recent case, in 2012, a soldier was killed during a live firing exercise. That case was about the planning, organisation and running of that range and required reconstruction of the scene, with accurate grid references and bearings to establish to the criminal standard the origin of the fatal round. Three were convicted and the officer was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, with the others receiving service punishments. It follows, and I do concede, that there may be cases involving complex military issues where a court martial may be appropriate, but these are very rare—two cases in some 14 years.

In reply to the Minister’s comments in Committee, I said that she had misinterpreted this amendment. I have used the word “normally”, which means what it says: that offences committed in the UK would be tried in the ordinary Crown Courts, or in their equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That would be part of the protocol of the DSP and the DPP. It would be in only exceptional cases of the nature to which I have referred that the Attorney-General would need to be approached. I am not suggesting that he should be involved in the decision-making process of venue ab initio. Incidentally, there is no bar to the Attorney-General making a decision on venue, just as he or she may do in deciding on the commencement of proceedings. The Minister suggested the contrary in her reply in Committee.

Much more common are cases of rape and sexual offences occurring in this country being tried by court martial. It is obvious from the report of Sarah Atherton’s Defence Sub-Committee that complainants, their families and the public simply do not have confidence in courts martial. We can argue about the figures, but if the level of conviction is so low then this perception will have an effect on recruitment and, more importantly, retention. There are many victims within the armed services who will wish to leave for a civilian life if their complaints are not upheld.

The noble Baroness also repeated the justification advanced in 2006 that public confidence can be maintained in the whole service justice system

“only if the service justice system not only has but can be shown to have the capability to deal with all offending fairly, efficiently and in a manner which respects and upholds the needs of victims.”—[Official Report, 27/10/21; col. GC 166.]

That was the justification in 2006 to give a boost to the status of the partly reformed system of courts martial.

I said at Second Reading that I generally welcome the reforms in this Bill. They nearly conclude the long journey since the Findlay human rights case in 1995 towards founding the service justice system on justice rather than, as it has been historically, on discipline. We have finally buried the Mutiny Act, under which General Braddock in the Seven Years’ War could issue the order of the day:

“Any Soldier who shall desert tho’ he return again will be hanged without mercy.”


This amendment is designed to complete the journey towards justice.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is one brief reason that I would add to what has been so eloquently said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. We have always tried, and marked the seriousness of, crimes set out in the amendment by trial by jury. Magna Carta conferred on defendants the right to trial by jury. Today, we take account of the interests of the victim of such crimes and they have confidence only in trial by jury, particularly as so many of these cases turn on credibility. On that, the judgment of ordinary men and women, drawn from a jury, is the only way to achieve justice. For those three reasons, we should not deprive people of trial by jury in these cases.

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Moved by
2: Clause 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert—
“(4A) Guidance under subsection (3)(a) must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civilian court unless, by reason of specific naval or military complexity involving the service, the Attorney General consents to trial by court martial.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure the most serious crimes – murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape and sexual assault with penetration – are tried in civilian courts when committed in the UK unless the Attorney General has specifically consented for such crimes to be tried by court martial by reason of complexity involving the service.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her careful reply, but I feel that I must test the opinion of the House.

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Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Portrait Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 27, in my name and those of other noble Lords, which calls for an independent defence representation unit. The amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is the principal amendment in this group, but this amendment is important and I am sure the Minister will have been well briefed on the subject. As the noble and learned Lord said rhetorically in Committee:

“I do not understand why we always expect the Armed Forces to have second best.”—[Official Report, 2/11/21; col. GC 295.]


And, in respect of independent representation, I fear that that is precisely what they get at the moment.

In Sir Richard Henriques’ fine report, he points to the fact that there is independent representation in Canada, Australia and South Africa but not for the British Armed Forces. There is talk that the present representation is a mere sticking-plaster solution. In Committee, the Minister said in mitigation of the stance that these proposals would not be accepted that,

“approximately 40 of these recommendations require policy and legal analysis … and I cannot accelerate that at the moment”

and

“we have so far been able to undertake only a light-touch analysis of some of his recommendations.”—[Official Report, 2/11/21, cols. GC 295, 297 and 288.]

I put it to the House that this recommendation is simple, clear cut and very necessary indeed. There is no reason why the Government need postpone further consideration of it. The Minister said in Committee that further consideration will be given when legislative time was allowed, and most of us know that that is usually shorthand for a long time in future. I strongly believe that a defence representation unit is urgent.

In his report, Sir Richard says he has considered the arguments carefully here, and that

“The Unit must be fully independent of the military command and act under the general supervision of the Attorney General. Any guidelines or instructions issued by the Attorney General must be published.”


He also makes the very strong point that

“there should be a significant saving on Legal Aid from the creation of this Unit. … Many of the delays at Court Martial may be avoided by the services supplied by the Unit.”

I do not intend to take up the time of the House this evening as we move through the consideration of this Bill, but I shall also read out paragraph 8.3.10 of Sir Richard’s report:

“Budgeting can only be a speculative process in this sphere. I have no doubt that there will be a saving in Legal Aid expenditure, the cost of Services Legal Aid approximating £1.8 million in the year 2019/2020. The cost of adjourned trials in the Court Martial caused by a lack of, or by delayed representation cannot be assessed. The provision of this facility to Service personnel and veterans should not be dictated by budgetary speculation, but by the moral obligation to provide proper support to those who serve or have served their country.”


His final sentence needs to be emphasised and repeated:

“The knock on the door will carry markedly less menace with the knowledge that competent legal assistance will be readily available.”


For the last couple of years, we have come to know precisely the anxiety and mental cost to serving and former members of the Armed Forces caused by that knock on the door. I therefore suggest to the Minister that Sir Richard Henriques’s recommendation that a defence representation unit be created to provide a triage service to service personnel and veterans under investigation for criminal conduct be a matter of some urgency. I look forward to the Minister saying to us tonight that that will be brought forward.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
- Hansard - -

There is no doubt that serious crimes are more difficult to investigate in the military than in civilian life due to the exigencies of service. On the other hand, serious crimes occur less often than they do in the territory of every civilian police force. That is why Sir Robert Henriques concluded that

“there should be a senior civilian appointment within the Defence Serious Crime Unit … with experience of major investigations and the ability and necessary experience to control a major incident room.”

He thought that such a number two should have the

“experience and ability to record, retain, manage and process several hundred allegations simultaneously using the most up to date technology.”

I would hope that the noble Baroness could explain, if she resists that particular proposal, that there is some system of training somebody up to the standard Sir Robert Henriques was talking about in his recommendation. How is a person going to get that experience to control a major incident room and carry out the various tasks he is referring to? It is not possible. That is the practical reason why he wanted a civilian as number two.

In recommendation 13 of his report, he said that the candidate would have

“achieved sufficient rank and recognition within civilian policing to act as an ambassador for the interests of Service police within the wider policing community.”

It is important that the service police are seen to be a first-rate service; there should be nothing second rate about the legal service provided to the Armed Forces on whichever side of a particular trial they may be. It is important that the service police should have status and expertise in all fields. I recall, for example, a court martial in Germany involving a German victim, where it was necessary to fly in a criminal pathologist from England to examine a body and later give evidence, and other scientists had to be imported as well. That was only one aspect of the case—the management of a large case is extremely difficult. I respectfully suggest that you cannot get that experience within the service police because they are scattered and do not organise themselves in that way.

I commented at very considerable length in Committee on the necessity to maintain the serious crime unit in a manner that is operationally independent of the military chain of command—for all the reasons that I gave then, and those so eloquently advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. I do not propose to repeat those comments but very strongly support what he has said.

I emphasise the need also to set up a strategy policing board of experienced civilians—as referred to in paragraph (5) of this amendment—to which the provost marshal for serious crime and the defence serious crime unit should be accountable. That should be done now. There was some suggestion that the provost marshal for serious crime had already been chosen—that is the wrong way round. You need to get together the body of people who will provide support and to whom these various bodies will be accountable.

I will say a brief word about Amendment 27. I strongly agree that there should be a defence representation unit. There are a number of very competent and able solicitors around the country who carry out this task, but it is not well paid, and they have to travel considerable distances to do it; legal representation is frequently delayed as a result.

I remember my great friend Gilbert Blades, who was the solicitor in the Finlay case that started all this off in 1995. His method of attracting clients was to drive around in a pink Rolls-Royce, the arrival of which at an army unit would cause something of a stir. I do not imagine that a defence representation unit would pay the sort of fees that would enable a person employed there to buy a Rolls-Royce, but there we are. It is very important that such a unit be set up; I support that amendment too.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we strongly support Amendment 23 moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, to which my noble friend Lord Robertson, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I have added our names. I thank the noble and learned Lord for the clear and concise way in which he outlined the need for this amendment and why the Government should think again with respect to it.

We welcome the establishment of the DSCU but remain concerned as to why the Government will not accept something as seemingly sensible as this amendment. It seeks only to implement Henriques’ full vision for the unit. Without it, independence is not necessarily guaranteed—a point that a number of noble Lords have made—and nor are the other recommendations for how the unit will function. If the Government accept such recommendations, why not put them on the face of the Bill?

The Minister has argued that the other Henriques recommendations remain in the mix but do not need legislative underpinning; however, there is a difference of opinion between what does and does not need legislative underpinning. For example, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has argued that there needs to be a statutory provision for the witness and victim care unit, but the Government seem to say that it is not needed. Can the Minister tell us what legal advice the Government have received to come to such a very different conclusion?

Armed Forces Bill

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
Overall, we support the establishment of the defence security unit. There are a number of important questions to be asked about it, but the Committee is seeking to ensure that when we end up with the defence security unit—we hope in April next year—it will be as effective as we all want it to be. It has an important job of work to do, not least ensuring the public confidence that we need.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we on these Benches are very grateful to Sir Richard Henriques for his report and recommendations. We understand why, in the three months since they were published, they have received only light-touch consideration from the Government. Perhaps I can be forgiven for giving some historical context to the role of the chain of command in courts martial, because it appears in Amendment 43 and in the Bill.

In 1757, Admiral Byng was convicted not of personal cowardice but of failing to do his utmost to engage the enemy in an attack upon French forces besieging the British garrison in Menorca. The truth was that his fleet of ships had been hastily assembled by the Admiralty. They were in poor condition and he had to retire to have them repaired, but he was convicted by court martial under the Articles of War and, despite pleas for clemency, even by the Prime Minister William Pitt himself, George II refused to commute the sentence. Admiral Byng was shot on the quarterdeck of a British ship by a firing squad. Your Lordships will recall that Voltaire, in his book Candide, commented that in Britain, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others—“pour encourager les autres”.

Courts martial were seen then, and for 200 years afterwards, as an instrument of discipline rather than justice. It is undoubtedly the case that men were shot for cowardice in the First World War to encourage their comrades to go over the top. Discipline was seen to be a function of command, and the commander must achieve discipline to secure cohesive action and singleness of purpose.

It was the Labour Government of 1946 who appointed a commission to examine the administration of military justice. It advised the appoint of a civilian judge-marshal but made no change in the way the board and the prosecuting officer were appointed. So it was that in 1996, the structure of courts martial was still within the chain of command. The convening officer, who was the field officer in command of a body of the Regular Forces within which the person to be tried was serving, was the person who decided the charges against the defendant, appointed the board and the prosecuting officer and arranged the trial. He—the convening officer—could dissolve the court martial during the trial, in the interests of the administration of justice, and could comment on its findings publicly, in the interests of discipline. He confirmed the findings and could reject or change the sentence, so the board was still subject to command influence.

A fair and impartial trial is obviously difficult in an atmosphere of command control. All the personnel connected with the trial are dependent, or were at that time, on the commanding officer for assignments, leave and promotion. A member of the board could not deviate too far from his commander’s views of the case if it might affect his career. That is why, following the criticisms made by the European Court of Human Rights in Findlay, we brought about such significant changes in 2006. Justice is now the dominant element and in a volunteer army, this is vital to morale and to the retention of personnel, as Sir Richard Henriques himself comments.

Despite this history, the Government have rejected Sir Richard’s recommendation 14. In paragraph 5.4.1 of his review, he says:

“An investigating body, charged with the responsibility of investigating serious crime allegedly committed by members of the Armed Forces, must be hierarchically, institutionally and practically independent both of the chain of command and of those whom they are under a duty to investigate.”


The wording that he uses—“hierarchically, institutionally and practically”—comes from the judgment in Jordan v United Kingdom, 37 EHRR 2. Explicitly, the European court was following Lord Steyn in 2003 in the Appellate Committee of this House, where he said:

“Public perception of the possibility of unconscious bias is the key.”


That issue of public confidence was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, at the last hearing of this Committee.

However, instead of following that wording and explicitly breaking away from the chain of command, the Government have put forward the existing wording taken from the 2011 Act, as the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, pointed out. New Section 2A, proposed by the noble Baroness’s Amendment 42, would impose a duty on the provost marshal to ensure that all investigations are “free from improper interference”. That in no way matches the language of recommendation 14 of Sir Richard Henriques’s report, which makes an explicit break from the chain of command.

In recommending a strategic policing board for civilian governance and oversight of the provost marshal for serious crime, in paragraph 5.6.13 of his report, Sir Richard Henriques looked around the world. He looked to New Zealand, Australia and Canada. He also considered the function of the independent advisory group, which was formed for Operation Northmoor in this country. It appears that he agreed the composition of the strategic policing board with the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Defence People.

Today, the noble Baroness told us that the Government have accepted the strategic policing board’s structure, but it is something to be put into the future. The strategic policing board is the person who stands behind and is the instrument of governance of the proposed provost marshal for serious crime. You cannot have one without the other, so perhaps the noble Baroness will explain how you could appoint a person to a position and give them responsibilities without first having the strategic policing board of civilian governance and oversight that Sir Richard Henriques called for.

Finally, I add my support to Amendment 66 and its requirement for a report to ensure that Sir Richard Henriques’s recommendations are carried out.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support this amendment, but I have a number of questions for my noble friend the Minister.

The tri-service serious crime unit is definitely a good idea but, given that the Armed Forces Act brought together the three single-service Acts back in 2006, I have for some time questioned why we do not have a joint service police force, given their relative sizes. The Royal Air Force Police is commanded by a group captain; the Navy, by a commander; and, of course, the Army provost marshal is a one-star brigadier. Who will own this organisation? If it is not going to be linked to one of the other service police forces, how can we ensure that it will not wither on the vine in time? For example, what will happen to the SIB, which has a proud operational record over the past 40 years? What will its role be vis-à-vis this new organisation? Equally, as we create what will be a fourth provost marshal, who will sit on the National Police Chiefs’ Council? Currently, the three single service provost marshals do. Does this mean that now there will be four? How will that look? Will defence be speaking with a single voice?

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Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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Perhaps I might draw to the Minister’s attention her amendment, which states in subsection (3)(b) of the proposed new clause:

“The Provost Marshal for serious crime has a duty, owed to the Defence Council, to seek to ensure that all investigations carried out by the tri-service serious crime unit are free from improper interference.”


Does she not agree that that is miles away from the formulation proposed by Sir Richard Henriques, as stated in Amendment 43, that the duty is to

“ensure all investigations are operationally independent from the military chain of command”?

I have tried to point out that we have got away from the military chain of command in the justice system and that justice comes first, before discipline, in that area—individual justice. Does the Minister not see the difference in the wording, and how much stronger is Sir Richard Henriques’ formulation?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I say to the noble Lord—and I do not want to reprise everything that I have said—that we recognise the different characteristics within the service justice system that are not necessarily a part of the civilian system. We have to acknowledge that, as I indicated, it is not easy to just place things in silos. If something happens on an overseas operation, the chain of command may have to take action. That is why we talk about “improper interference”. I think that is an important distinction. What we are placing upon the provost marshal and the Defence Serious Crime Unit is the obligation to be independent and to seek to ensure the independence of the investigation.

However, we also have to acknowledge the reality of the environment in which these individuals are operating. That is why the Government have deliberately chosen the phrasing they have. I said earlier that there is nothing innovative about that phrasing; it deploys existing text from previous Acts. But I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that it would be unwise to place on the provost marshal obligations that are beyond the wit of the provost marshal to discharge. Equally, it would be wrong to condemn the chain of command for taking action in the early stages of an incident which the chain of command may have had no alternative but to take to protect personnel, to look after safety, to preserve evidence or whatever. That is why the Government prefer the phrasing they have adopted.

Armed Forces Bill

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to join you in Committee this afternoon to discuss amendments to the Armed Forces Bill. Without further delay, I shall speak to group 1, which comprises government Amendments 1, 2 and 4 as well as Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, dealing with the constitution of the court martial.

Clause 2 will fix the number of lay members on a court martial board at either three or six. The amendment will give judge advocates the power to direct that a fourth lay member be sworn in to what would normally be a three-member court martial board. The court martial rules will set out the circumstances in which such directions can be made. If a four-member board loses a member, it will be able to carry on with the remaining three members and reach a verdict.

We are making this amendment because the Covid pandemic showed the need for greater flexibility in the service courts as board members were taken ill or had to self-isolate, particularly following the “pingdemic” earlier this year. This measure is a practical arrangement that seeks to future-proof the service justice system against this type of situation, or any other unforeseen circumstances that may arise in future. It will introduce flexibility to the system and ensure that more trials are effective and that victims and witnesses are not subjected to delays in the system. If we do not make the amendment, when a panel member is lost from a three-member board, the only options open to the judge advocate would be either to adjourn the proceedings until that lay member is available again or to halt the trial altogether. This would introduce an unwelcome delay to the administration of justice, which would especially affect victims and witnesses, and in some cases could actually mean that a retrial was required.

The approach that we have taken is based on the current legislation for the court martial. When a trial is likely to last more than 10 days in the UK, or five days when overseas, there is an existing arrangement whereby the judge advocate is able to direct that there should be one or two more members than the current minimum number of lay members for a trial. Where a four member-board remains in place until the end of the trial, at least three members of a board of four must agree on a finding. If it is reduced to three members, at least two out of three must agree.

We have consulted the Judge Advocate-General on this amendment, and he supports it as a means to improve service justice system efficiency and provide flexibility to deal with unexpected events in future. I hope that your Lordships agree that this is a sensible measure that will allow the court martial to continue to operate in difficult times and prevent unnecessary delay for victims and witnesses of crime.

I turn Amendment 3, which would create a statutory requirement for the judge advocate to determine the appropriate sentence alone, having consulted the military lay members of the board. This would reverse the current position whereby the military members of the board and the judge advocate together discuss and vote on an appropriate sentence.

Interestingly, the change sought by noble Lords is not something that His Honour Shaun Lyons recommended in the service justice review. The Armed Forces community is different from the civilian community and it is important that we recognise that. It is obviously the one with which we are familiar, but it is a very different environment within the Armed Forces community.

The board votes on sentence because it is best placed to fully appreciate the context of the offending, the background of the offender and the deterrent effect of any sentence on the wider service. Moreover, some sentences, such as demotion or detention for corrective training, are specific to life in the services. The board has the expertise to judge whether they might be appropriate or effective.

It is worth emphasising that members of the military are governed by a more stringent set of rules and restrictions than those of us in civilian life. These rules are designed to maintain discipline and promote operational effectiveness so that they can get the job done. Many of these additional rules and restrictions to which service personnel are subject apply regardless of whether they are on or off duty. An in-depth understanding of these rules and the context in which they apply form a key part of reaching an appropriate sentence.

To give a simple example, a civilian turning up late for work in a supermarket does not have the same impact on operational effectiveness as the same situation with a marine engineer on a nuclear deterrent submarine that is about to leave port. Members of the Armed Forces will have a broader and deeper understanding of the implications of this type of behaviour.

I reassure noble Lords that the sentencing process is already subject to stringent legal controls and oversight. The court martial is required by law to have regard to the Sentencing Council’s sentencing guidelines, which must be followed by the civilian courts. It can depart from these guidelines only if this is justified by the service context.

The Judge Advocate-General also issues guidance and sentencing for the service courts. The judge advocate makes the decision on sentence with the board, so everyone involved is fully aware of the relevant legislation and guidelines. Judge advocates also regularly sit in the Crown Court and bring that experience and expertise to the deliberations of the court martial. Further judicial oversight is provided by the Court Martial Appeal Court, made up of judges who sit in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.

The current system is both legally sound and ensures that sentences take account of the service context. This amendment would not add any significant legal safeguards to those that already exist. It would move the emphasis away from the court martial being a part of a service justice system in which discipline is maintained by and for the Armed Forces and service personnel. It also diminishes the importance of the service context in sentencing and places a barrier between the service person being sentenced and those with whom they serve.

I hope I have managed to explain fully why the Government have a reservation about this amendment. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw it, and I beg to move the amendment standing in my name.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thank the Minister for seeing me and my noble friend Lady Smith yesterday, when we had a full and fruitful discussion of these issues. I very much support the thrust of this Bill, in particular, bringing the service justice system up to date and having majority verdicts at the heart of it.

Sentencing is a difficult and technical business. I suspect that I am the only person in this Room who has actually seen the judge in a case in which I was appearing put on a black cap and sentence my client to death. That was in Hong Kong. He was not actually executed but it is a solemn moment. Sentencing in the old days used to follow the verdict but not anymore. In any serious case there is an adjournment for sentencing to enable the judge to consider the sentencing guidelines, the pre-sentence reports, the technicalities which he or she must say in the sentencing remarks, the statements of relatives and the public interest in the whole matter. A balancing exercise is carried out.

Importantly, the guidelines may give the recommended range of the sentence, but the judge has to consider the aggravating and mitigating features of the case, which will increase or decrease the recommended sentence in the sentencing guidelines. If I can give an illustration, because it is apposite for next Saturday when Wales play the All Blacks, in rugby, a referee, with his touch judges or assistant referees and the television match official, will discuss something that might have happened. They talk together and they have the advantage of a replay of an incident from various angles so that they can actually see what happened, which does not happen in a court. But it is the referee who takes the decision, not the people who assist him in his decision.

In the court martial system, it is the panel that takes the decision on the sentence with the judge participating and advising. It is only if the board are equally divided that the judge has the casting vote. To take another example, in the magistrates’ court it is the decision of the magistrates, as advised by the clerk, who may or may not be legally qualified. The judge advocate is not a clerk advising; he is central to a trial. He controls the proceedings. He gives directions to the board and rulings, including dismissing the charges altogether, as happened in the 3 Para case in Colchester in 2005. There is an anomaly as well: if the defendant is a civilian subject to service discipline and thereby liable to court martial, the judge advocate sentences alone.

Of course, the panel could and should advise on any particular military facet of the case, but from my experience it should not be assumed that the members of the panel have any direct front-line operational experience comparable to that of the defendant before them. They might have, but there are many units and many roles in which modern British forces are involved. Very frequently, the officers on a court martial do not have anything like the same experience as the defendant and the pressures he has been under. On the other hand, the judge, who sits regularly as judge advocate in a military court, has considerable experience of the operational conditions from the cases that come before him.

Under the current system, an officer or warrant officer is summoned to be a member of the board, probably with no or limited experience of courts martial, save for the president. He might never have been near a court or a court martial, but he becomes a judge with very considerable powers. He will be given the responsibility of determining sentence in a difficult case. That is a power that has never been given to civilian juries in the history of the common law. But it can be only history which retains this unique power for the board in courts martial. Perhaps it is a throwback to when there were no civilian professional judges, but, as I said in opening in my remarks, we have advanced so far. The civilian judge advocate is so important to the system.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in the light of the very full observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I want to add three observations. First, over the years the practice of sentencing has become much more complicated and difficult. From the early 1980s onward, the way in which you sentence in the criminal courts has been the subject of guidance from the Lord Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal Criminal Division. It was then followed by the Sentencing Advisory Panel and the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Now it is contained in very complicated and detailed documents drafted by the Sentencing Council.

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Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I admire the loyalty expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, who is concerned about weakening the identity of the single service, and I understand it. It was an argument advanced in 2006, when the wholesale reform of the court martial system took place, bringing the three service justice systems together into one—something widely accepted at the time. I remember at that time proposing an amendment that the board should be drawn from the three services and not from one to deal with a particular defendant. After the rather heated debate, I met an air marshal, a field marshal and an admiral of the fleet in the corridor. I said that I hoped I had not upset them with the suggestion, whereupon one of them, who shall be nameless, said to me, “You should be shot”. So, at that time, the same sentiments were widely abroad and discussed.

The noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, said that the defendant should be able to look into the eyes of the jury and know that he is among people who understand him. There have been some very serious trials recently involving policemen. Should a policeman be looking into the eyes of a jury composed of senior policemen because they will understand the pressures that he is under? It is just not the British system to take particular people in the community, who may have loyalties one way or the other, and have them tried by their peers in that sense.

I welcome and understand what the noble Lord said, but I think we have gone beyond that. Indeed, the report by Sir Richard Henriques that we will be discussing later takes the matter even further, with the defence units that he proposes, and which the Government now propose, where any concept of different services is abandoned.

I return to my argument on the judge sentencing. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for his support on that, and shall return to it when we get to Report, because it is an important matter of principle that should complete the considerable reform of the criminal justice service system that we are undertaking. I shall not move my amendment.

Amendment 1 agreed.
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Moved by
5: Clause 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert—
“(4A) Guidance under subsection (3)(a) must provide that where offences of murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape or sexual assault with penetration are alleged to have been committed in the United Kingdom, any charges brought against a person subject to service law shall normally be tried in a civil court unless, by reason of specific naval or military complexity involving the service, the Attorney General consents to trial by court martial.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure the most serious crimes – murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, rape and sexual assault with penetration – are tried in civilian courts when committed in the UK unless the Attorney General has specifically consented for such crimes to be tried by court martial by reason of complexity involving the service.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, prior to 2006, charges of murder, manslaughter and rape committed in the United Kingdom were tried in the ordinary courts, rather than by court martial, when a person subject to service discipline was involved. At that time, in 2006, the Labour Government gave concurrent jurisdiction to courts martial to try these matters. The Conservatives opposed the change, as did the Liberal Democrats. I suggested at the time that the purpose was merely to bolster the credibility of the new courts martial system, which was being totally reformed.

I am not aware of any murder or manslaughter case involving a person subject to service discipline that has been tried by court martial arising out of incidents in the United Kingdom, but rape and sexual offences are very different. A significant disparity in conviction rates in rape cases where courts martial have been employed was found by the statistics before Judge Lyons: 16% were convicted in a court martial, as opposed to 34% of defendants in the ordinary courts. That is an unacceptable disparity.

It was referred to in Sarah Atherton MP’s Defence Sub-Committee report published in July and entitled Protecting Those Who Protect Us. Paragraph 175 of that report, which is now only three or four months old, says:

“We do not believe that the problems highlighted by the Lyons Review in the handling of sexual offences in the Service Justice System have been fully resolved. While we accept there is a limited set of circumstances where it may be appropriate for the Service Justice System to be used for UK-based sexual offences (for example when there are offences both in the UK and overseas), this must require the Attorney General’s consent. There may be other compelling reasons, such as the young age and vulnerability of the victim, when it is more appropriate for the civilian justice system to hear these cases. In our view, the fact that a UK case may involve a victim and a perpetrator who are both Service personnel is not a sufficient reason for the Service Justice System to be used.”


Sarah Atherton’s report went on to call for the implementation of the very first recommendation of Judge Lyons’s review—he made a large number of recommendations—in which he said:

“It is … recommended that the Court Martial jurisdiction should no longer include murder, manslaughter and rape when these offences are committed in the UK, except when the consent of the Attorney General is given.”


The Atherton report also called for the implementation of the Lyons recommendations to place all domestic violence and child abuse cases in the civil jurisdiction when committed in the UK.

Why is that recommendation from Judge Lyons, repeated by the Defence Sub-Committee chaired by Sarah Atherton, a Conservative Member, resisted? The Government may now feel that reverting to the pre-2006 position may be seen as a vote of no confidence in the court martial system. I do not believe that to be so, and I do not think it a proper justification. In 2006 it was not seen by the Conservative Party to be a sufficient reason to support the Labour amendment of this historical common-law position that service personnel who commit offences in the United Kingdom will be tried in the ordinary courts.

It is a breach of the basic principles that a person subject to service law is still a citizen and that a British citizen has a right to be tried for serious offences by a randomly selected jury of 12 ordinary fellow citizens. That was a point strongly urged by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, at Second Reading and in the extension of that in his amendment linked to this, which I fully support. I shall leave it to him to explain the purposes of that. I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on the first of these amendments but, before explaining my reasons, my primary purpose in tabling these amendments is to try to ensure the proper morale of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and the standing in which they are held by the public. One has to bear in mind always that in the modern criminal justice system, where successive Governments have ensured that the victim or complainant —I will use the words interchangeably—is put at the heart of the system, that is taken fully into account. One can see this so often. For example, recently, the public look at the way in which the police investigate and they will look at the way in which people are tried. Are they being tried fairly and is there a proper balance?

It is important to realise that what I seek is, first, to achieve a much greater degree of certainty in relation to these matters and, secondly, to try to ensure that the Armed Forces are not subjected to yet more complaints about the nature of the justice system. It is evident from the report of Judge Shaun Lyons, a most distinguished Naval Judge Advocate—and a judge who is in charge of a major London criminal court—that there ought to be the change which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has so carefully gone through. I fully support his amendment but, in view of the difficulties that arise, it is necessary to go a little further.

If I may explain, I want to deal with two issues, one of which, the position of crimes committed overseas, I regret to say the Minister was not happy about last time. However, there is a serious issue and I shall take a moment or two to refer in detail to the law on this subject. The other is in relation to crimes outside the ambit of the proposal to deal with sexual offences, murder and other serious offences.

It is right to begin by recording that, particularly in relation to the most terrible crimes that have occurred, one can go back a very long way. I have seen many of these crimes myself, although the first of them occurred one year after I was born. It concerned the involvement of a battalion of the Scots Guards in an event at a place called Batang Kali during the Malayan emergency. That case was not investigated properly at the time; it is now abundantly clear and there remained a residue, which went right down to the early 2000s, about the way in which it had been approached.

In more recent times, there were the cases involving Baha Mousa and others in Iraq. There was the Blackman case, to which I regret I will have to return, and there were the points raised by one newspaper last Sunday. From what I have seen in each case, regrettably, one has to be sanguine about the fact that such conduct may well occur again. We have to deal with it in a way that is fair and just, while maintaining the morale of the Armed Forces.

We shall turn to looking at investigation when we come to consider the report of Sir Richard Henriques but, on this amendment, we are concerned with jurisdiction. Who has jurisdiction to try a case? Jurisdiction is not like deciding whether you prosecute. It goes to the fundamental position of the court and, over the centuries, it has always been the position that Parliament controls the jurisdiction of the courts. As I mentioned at Second Reading, it is also a fundamental principle that for certain offences there is a right to trial by a jury of 12 people. It is very difficult to see any justification whatever for taking that right away from one of Her Majesty’s citizens. It is fundamental; one has only to read Lord Devlin’s classic work on the jury to realise how core this principle is to our justice system.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I certainly undertake to look at Hansard and endeavour to frame a response to the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister for the very careful and thorough way she addressed these amendments. I feel that she slightly misrepresents the nature of Amendment 5. I am not suggesting that in every case the Attorney-General be woken up by the telephone in the middle of the night and come to a decision in her pyjamas. That is not quite what I have in mind, which is that serious offences such as murder, manslaughter and domestic violence should normally be tried in the civil court. There is no question of protocols: that is the normal way you go about it. But in the event that there is some very specific naval or military complexity involved—I had in mind, for example, the working of a gun in a tank that causes another person to be killed on Salisbury Plain—one could imagine that there might be a case for the authorities to say, “This has a bit of a military tang to it. Therefore, we will see whether the Attorney-General will agree, in this very unusual case, that a trial by court martial would be more appropriate, because the panel might be more used to that sort of thing.”

We are talking about murder, rape, manslaughter, domestic violence, and child abuse by serving soldiers or servicepeople in the United Kingdom. It is important that that should be realised. Normally they would be tried in the Crown Court by a jury in the ordinary way.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, raised the issue of confidence. That is what this is about: public confidence in the system of service courts. That is what is needed. I repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said: people will not come forward. If you have a situation where servicepeople who complain of rape find that only 16% of the complaints result in convictions, that means that 84% of victims will have gone to the court, given their evidence and found that the defendant has been found not guilty of the offence against them. Does that give confidence, not just to the victim but to the family? They will leave the service; this is the sort of situation in which a person says, “I’m not going to stand for this. I’ve gone before a court martial; they don’t believe me.”

This is an extensive problem in the United States. Four or five years ago I gave evidence to a congressional committee in Washington on what the British system was because they were considering sexual assaults in the military over there. I was in the unlikely company of Senator Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is known to have certain right-wing views. They were all on the same side. Nothing happened. President Biden has within the first six months of his Administration set up a commission to deal with sexual offences in the military. This is a very important point and it is very necessary that we deal with it properly.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, pointed out to the judicial review that took place in the Blackman case that our protocols for overseas jurisdiction have not worked. His proposal that parliamentary approval of any protocol should underpin that protocol is entirely correct, sensible, right and common sense, because it would prevent the bringing of judicial review against whoever is in charge—the Director of Service Prosecutions or the director of prosecutions in another jurisdiction—as the protocol would have parliamentary approval.

I support the noble and learned Lord in that. The fact that it does not exist at the moment is neither here nor there; what we are concerned about is having something that does not give rise to parades and demonstrations in Parliament Square, as happened in the Blackman case. That is an important point, and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, will pursue it.

Armed Forces Bill

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I associate these Benches with the tributes paid by the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to the expertise and professionalism of the British forces in the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In February 1997, Lance-Sergeant Alexander Findlay of the Scots Guards, a veteran of the Falklands campaign and the Battle of Mount Tumbledown, successfully appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against his conviction for assault. Suffering from PTSD, he had held members of his own unit at pistol point and threatened to kill himself and them. The court held that the constitution of courts martial in the UK was such that they were not an independent and impartial tribunal, as required by Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The march to reform the system had begun. I declare my personal interest as chair of the Association of Military Court Advocates.

This Bill means that we have nearly reached the conclusion of that march. I pay tribute to the excellent review of His Honour Judge Lyons, who comprehensively covered the ground and made recommendations on the composition of the panel that tries these cases, including on numbers, on the need for more than a simple majority to convict and on the extension of membership to chief petty officers and their equivalent. He also proposed that a board need not be of single service composition in general discipline matters. I raised all these issues as amendments to the then Armed Forces Bills of 2006, 2011 and 2016, in step with the evidence given to the Commons committees by the highly experienced former Judge Advocate-General Jeff Blackett. Something once bitterly opposed by the Ministry of Defence, under Governments of every stripe, is now seen as uncontroversial and commonplace; I am grateful to the Government for that and to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for the way in which she opened this case and has been open to discussion and consideration of these proposals.

The one recommendation of Judge Lyons that the Government rejected is that court martial jurisdiction should no longer include murder, manslaughter and rape when these offences are committed in the UK except when the consent of the Attorney-General is given. The judge thought it important enough to make it his first recommendation. In 2006, I moved an amendment to negative this novel extension of jurisdiction, introduced in the then Bill. My excuse for quoting myself is that my remarks were quoted in Judge Lyons’s review. I said:

“The purpose of my amendments is to maintain the present position. The present position traditionally has been that if a serious offence of treason, murder, manslaughter or rape is committed in the United Kingdom, as opposed to abroad, by a soldier or serviceman or a civilian subject to service discipline, those offences cannot be tried by way of court martial but can be tried only in the Crown Court”—


that is if the offences are committed in the United Kingdom. I continued:

“That is the position today. For some reason, which has not been adequately explained, although I have pressed the matter both in Committee and on Report, the Government think that it is right to extend the jurisdiction of the court martial court to encompass any criminal offence.”—[Official Report, 6/11/06, cols. 599-600.]


I lost the Division by 63 largely Liberal Democrat votes to 165 Labour votes. The Conservatives abstained.

What, then, is the reason given by this Government to reject Judge Lyons’s primary recommendation to restore the pre-2006 position: that cases should normally be heard in the civilian courts, as they always used to be? If a really exceptional case arose, an application could be made to the Attorney-General to transfer it to the court martial system; I suggest the possibility that a manslaughter case involving the failure of equipment or the exigencies of training might be such a case. I had a look at the justification given by Mr Leo Docherty in the other place in answer to the Labour amendment. He suggested:

“If the AG had to give consent, the process would be slower … there would be no easy way to transfer that case to the civilian system.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/21, col. 251.]


The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, tried to expand on his explanation by suggesting that it shows confidence in the service system if it can try everything. I do not think that is the right position. I am not aware of any case of a murder committed in the United Kingdom and involving service personnel that has been tried by court martial since 2006.

However, on rape, the Government’s position has been completely undermined by the Defence Sub-Committee’s report Women in the Armed Forces, published on 25 July—barely a month ago—and to which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred. As it happens, the review was chaired by my own Member of Parliament, Sarah Atherton—the only Conservative in recorded history ever to represent the constituency of Wrexham. She said:

“Sexual assault and rape are amongst the most serious offences committed against female service personnel … It is difficult not to be moved by the stories of trauma, both emotional and physical, suffered by women at the hands of their colleagues. A woman raped in the military often then has to live and work with the accused perpetrator, with fears that speaking out would damage her career prospects … From our evidence, it is clear to us that serious sexual offenses should not be tried in the Court Martial system. It cannot be right that conviction rates in military courts are four to six times lower than in civilian courts. Military women are being denied justice.”


To underline those comments, Judge Lyons’s review contains a telling statistic: in 2017, of the 49 charges of rape preferred before a court martial, there were two convictions. This means that up to 47 victims and their families have been failed by the system. What does that do for the recruitment and retention of women soldiers? I leave it to your Lordships’ imagination. It undermines the trust and public confidence on which the whole criminal justice system, whether military or civil, depends.

Here, we have a number of factors coming together. Giving jurisdiction to courts martial to try murder, manslaughter and rape charges for offences committed in the UK was an aberration introduced by the Labour Government in 2006. It is not a hallowed part of service history. The Conservative Party did not support it at the time. In considering this Bill, the Labour Party has called for its removal in the other place. The jurisdiction has not been utilised, save for rape cases in a highly unsatisfactory way. As I said, the Conservative chair of the Defence Sub-Committee, after the investigation, stated:

“Military women are being denied justice.”


She is right. The Government, which cannot give a sensible explanation for its retention, should heed the voices from Wrexham and follow Judge Lyons’s recommendation.

Another issue that remains is that of sentencing. I have argued during the passage of each Bill that sentencing is a complex process resulting in varying disposals. I suggest again to your Lordships that it should be left to a professional judge to determine sentence, not to a panel whose members may well be making such a decision in respect of a defendant for the one and only time in their lives. Whereas they can impose sentences of up to life imprisonment, magistrates with lengthy experience of the judicial system can do no more than pass a sentence of 12 months. It is true that, these days, a judge sits in on and participates in the decision, but he does not have a casting vote.

Of course I pay tribute to our armed services—they are very close to all our hearts in this House—but we must have a justice system that is perfect. We have moved strongly in that direction. My noble friends Lady Smith of Newnham and Lady Brinton will deal with the important aspects relating to the military covenant, while the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, will deal with pensions. I fully support what they will say.

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford
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Moved by

At end insert “but do propose Amendment 2B in lieu—

2B: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—

“Investigation of allegations related to overseas operations


(1) In deciding whether to commence criminal proceedings for allegations against a member of Her Majesty’s Forces arising out of overseas operations, the relevant prosecutor must take into account whether the investigation has been timely and comprehensively conducted.


(2) Where an investigator of allegations arising out of overseas operations is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of criminal conduct to continue the investigation, the investigator must within 21 days refer the investigation to the Service Prosecuting Authority with any initial findings and accompanying case papers.


(3) An investigation may not proceed after the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which the allegation was first reported without the reference required in subsection (2).


(4) On receiving a referral under subsection (2), the Service Prosecuting Authority must either—


(a) order the investigation to cease if it considers it unlikely that charges will be brought, or


(b) give appropriate advice and directions to the investigator about avenues of inquiry to pursue and not pursue.


(5) On the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator must send a final report with accompanying case papers to the Service Prosecuting Authority for the consideration of criminal proceedings.


(6) After receipt of the final report, the facts and circumstances of the allegations may not be further investigated or reinvestigated without the direction of the Director of Service Prosecutions acting on the ground that there is new compelling evidence or information.


(7) For the purposes of this section—


“case papers” includes summaries of interviews or other accounts given by the suspect, previous convictions and disciplinary record, available witness statements, scenes of crime photographs, CCTV recordings, medical and forensic science reports;


“investigator” means a member of the service police or a civil police force.””

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I would like to quote some wise words on this Bill with which I entirely agree:

“those who commit criminal acts … must face justice and must expect to be called to account. However, that should be done without undue delay: periods of delay stretching over years are simply not acceptable.”—[Official Report, 20/1/21; col. 1170.]

That was the opening statement at Second Reading of the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie. A moment ago, as I understood it, she suggested that the current status quo was perfectly flexible and reasonable and that there should be no change. I do not agree. She has considered this Bill with remarkable fortitude and dealt trenchantly with her colleagues on some of these issues. I admire her very much for that. Having been present in person on the only occasion that a conviction of a war crime has been recorded in a British court, I am relieved that war crimes have now been removed from the presumption against prosecution. Clearly under her influence the Government can think again. I thank her. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, for his leadership on this.

No one has suggested throughout the whole passage of the Bill that there has been unacceptable delay by the Service Prosecuting Authority or the office of the Director of Service Prosecutions in bringing prosecutions, and nor has there been any complaint of delay in the listing of cases for trial or in the time taken in the courts martial process.

I referred at previous stages to the difficulties faced in investigations in theatre: the fact that investigations by victims in a hostile country may be made late, the likelihood of a lack of co-operation, the need for security for the investigators themselves, the problems of language and culture and, importantly, the lack of the range of forensic scientific facilities which would be readily available to investigators of domestic crime within the UK. All these pose considerable difficulties. However, the Bill still does not directly address the problem of delayed, shoddy and repeated investigations, which has very much been the concern of many members of the Armed Forces.

The Bill still introduces the novel idea of a presumption against prosecution for murder and for lesser charges to terminate proceedings arbitrarily; that has thankfully been truncated today but is still just about hanging in there on the serious offences of murder and likewise. This anomaly—this presumption against prosecution—may be the subject of law lectures in future, perhaps for a lengthy period until it is reversed, as I am convinced it will be, but will the presumption of prosecution still in this Bill be extended to other categories of public servants? Will there be a presumption against the prosecution of policemen after a number of years, or soldiers who have served in Northern Ireland? We have recently seen senior police officers tried for decisions made, under stress, more than 30 years ago. Have the memories of witnesses to those tragic events faded? Should retired police officers have the threat of prosecution held over them? Today a trial starts in Northern Ireland dealing with the events of 50 years ago. When the promised Bill to protect veterans of Northern Ireland operations is produced, will there be a presumption against prosecution in that? If so, I predict serious riots in Derry.

I return to my amendment, which sets out a practical and principled way of monitoring investigations and stopping them if, in the opinion of the Director of Service Prosecutions, there is insufficient evidence and no prospect of further investigations succeeding. Only if there is new and compelling evidence which satisfies the DSP could such investigations be resumed. It would not be, as at present, at the inclination or judgment of the investigator himself.

I am aware that the government response to my amendments in both this House and the other place, as we heard just now, has been to argue that its time limits are too restrictive. However, flexibility is built into the system I propose: no arbitrary cut-off applicable to all, regardless of the circumstances, but with each case considered individually on its merits. The insertion of time limits to control and monitor the investigation is precisely the point.

The alternative argument advanced by the Government is that Sir Richard Henriques is carrying out a review of the process of investigations. If that is so, it is not I who am premature with my amendment but the Government, who are pushing this Bill forward before he has reported. I know Sir Richard well from the days of my youth when I trespassed on the northern circuit; he is a judge of outstanding ability and integrity. If I were assured that my amendment and the speeches on it would be put before him, and that he could report in time for the Armed Forces Bill—the Second Reading of which we expect in this House perhaps in June—it would materially affect my decision as to whether to press this Motion. I beg to move, but look forward very much to the reply of the noble Baroness.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we continue to accept and recognise the problem of baseless allegations and legal claims arising from Iraq and Afghanistan under both Labour and Conservative Governments. But the Bill, unamended, just does not do what was promised—that is, to protect British personnel serving overseas from vexatious legal claims and shoddy investigations. This is the gaping hole in this Bill, and it could be neatly fixed in the way that was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.

I remind the Minister that the conditions set on investigations in the amendment are not arbitrary, nor are they time limited. The proposal ensures timely, not time-limited, investigations. This is not unrealistic, because it has been tried and tested in civilian law, and that is one of the reasons why the former Judge Advocate-General is so keen on such a proposal. We have worked hard with the Government and across the House to try to build a consensus on this. While we believe this has been achieved with colleagues from all sides, the Government remain extremely resistant to proposals, so we are forced to recognise the restraints and realities of ping-pong. Therefore, we support the calls by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for the amendment to be referred to Sir Richard Henriques, and reported on in time for it to be considered in the Armed Forces Bill, to ensure that we return to the issue.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have received no requests to ask any short questions of elucidation, and accordingly call the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for that reply. I note that she is prepared to refer this issue to Sir Richard Henriques. It would be sensible to see what he has to say. I am sure that he will take on board all the submissions that have been made, and will produce a way forward to ensure that delays are monitored and controlled, and not left to hang about for ever, as has happened in the past. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw Motion B1.

Motion B1 withdrawn.
--- Later in debate ---
Finally, the incentive to bring claims in a timely manner is very much in the interests of claimants, as it is much more likely that the facts of the situation can be determined more accurately, thus offering a greater chance to achieve justice. Moving on to the other part of the Reason, and as I have previously stated, Lords Amendment 4 renders the longstop measures in Part 2 of this Bill incompatible with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. This is because in disapplying the longstops to claims by service personnel connected with overseas operations, we would be discriminating, with no justifiable reason, against non-service personnel who also bring claims connected with overseas operations. It is also our view that personnel deployed on overseas operations are not in an analogous situation with those who are not so deployed. We therefore consider that the difference in treatmentbetween their claims is justified. This is because the circumstances in which claims connected with overseas operations arise are specific and unusual. Additionally, all the difficulties that arise in claims connected with historic overseas operations relating to the lack of accurate contemporaneous records and increased reliance on the fading memories of personnel do not arise in the same way with claims not connected with historic overseas operations.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I have nothing to say on Motion C, which is purely technical.

The original amendment behind Motion D proposed that the ordinary rules of the Limitation Act should continue to apply to members of Her Majesty's Forces serving in overseas operations. The Government’s objection is that this is discriminatory and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Of course, the whole Bill is discriminatory, not least on the criminal side. It discriminates between personnel serving in overseas operations and personnel serving within the United Kingdom who do not have the protection of the so-called presumption against prosecution, for example, nor the protection against civil suit which these provisions seek to give.



Discrimination is not the problem here, the real issue is discretion: the discretion of a judge, in appropriate circumstances where it is equitable to do so, to extend or disregard the limitation period in actions in tort or, for example, for unlawful detention, or for breach of the articles of the human rights convention—for example, torture—or, in the case of our troops, for negligence, either in the provision of equipment or in training. The law has recognised over the centuries that the imposition of an absolute cut-off may in the circumstances of a particular case be entirely unjust.

Our system has operated quite successfully in cases arising out of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vexatious claims or claims which were so delayed as to make it impossible to try the issues fairly have been struck out in their hundreds. That is the system that we have got, and it is a system that works.

Your Lordships will recall that, at Report, I argued that the clauses which created a blank wall for all litigants, whether foreign nationals, civilian victims or members of the Armed Forces, should be removed from the Bill and that the tried and trusted system that we have—allowing judges to do their job in the particular circumstances of the case—should continue. The Government persist in removing the judges’ discretion, even in the narrow class of service personnel on overseas operations. We shall see how this works out, but I expect that veterans’ organisations will be clamouring at the door of the Ministry of Defence to reverse the decision as soon as possible.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we are very disappointed that the Government have rejected our amendment to Part 2 of the Bill. We still believe that it is simply wrong for those who put their life on the line serving Britain overseas to have less access to compensation and justice than the UK civilians whom they defend, or indeed than their colleagues whose service is largely UK based. The amendment was designed to ensure that claims by troops or former service personnel were not blocked in all circumstances after six years, as they would otherwise be under the Bill.

This provision also directly breaches the Armed Forces covenant, as the director-general of the Royal British Legion confirmed. He argued: “I think it”—by implication, the Bill—

“is protecting the MOD, rather than the service personnel”.—[Official Report, Commons, Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill Committee, 8/10/20; col. 86.]

While our concerns have not gone away, we recognise that the Government have shown absolutely no desire to change this, so we will not ask the other place to think again with another vote. However, we strongly urge the Government to think further on this matter, and we will return to it as soon as possible.

For now, I want to thank colleagues for their unwavering support for our amendment, especially the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Stirrup and Lord Boyce. Having created such a widely based coalition against this part of the Bill, the Government should think long and hard and use the opportunity of the Armed Forces Bill to correct this deeply unwise feature of this one.

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill

Lord Thomas of Gresford Excerpts
Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as we open the debate for the Report stage of the overseas operations Bill, I want to remind colleagues that, like many across this House, we remain determined to protect our troops from vexatious claims and shoddy investigations. We want it to be done in a way which directly tackles the problems head on, and which is in line with our international obligations. As I move Amendment 1 and speak to Amendment 6, it is with these aims clearly in mind.

I am sure that the Government will try to portray Amendment 1 as a wrecking amendment, but nothing is further from the truth. It aims to protect troops directly by removing the presumption and ensuring that prosecutors have regard to whether there can be a fair trial given the time allowed.

As drafted, the Bill is silent on the cycle of reinvestigations, and we cannot wait for the outcome of yet another MoD review before we deal with it directly. That is why we also fully support Amendment 6, which states, importantly, that there must be compelling evidence to justify a new investigation. It would place an effective framework around investigations, still allowing them to pursue new leads or witnesses when appropriate. This approach is complemented by Amendment 1, but we accept that Amendment 6 might be seen as the priority.

Ministers have identified problems with vexatious claims and shoddy investigations but are pursuing an indirect approach, and many colleagues do not understand why. We have the Bill in front of us now, so let us amend it now to solve the problems for good. I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2019 election. It said that

“we will introduce new legislation to tackle the vexatious legal claims that undermine our Armed Forces and further incorporate the Armed Forces Covenant into law.”

You will note that nothing is said there about a presumption against prosecution or anything about the criminal law, so the proposals in this Bill have been dreamed up without consultation. Certainly, there was no consultation with the former Judge Advocate-General, Jeff Blackett, who is internationally respected for his expertise in this field. As far as I can ascertain, there was no consultation either with the Director of Service Prosecutions or any of his highly respected predecessors. How, incidentally, in the light of the manifesto commitment can the Government resist the amendment that we shall later discuss in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on the Armed Forces covenant?

The hole in this Bill is that it does not directly address the scandal of delayed investigations and reinvestigations of service personnel. Amendment 6 would fill that gap with a code of investigation procedures. Investigations are fraught with difficulty in overseas operations. They operate in an insecure environment; potential witnesses may be reluctant to speak; there are language and cultural difficulties; and forensic services of the quality to be found in the UK may be unavailable for pathological examinations, DNA sampling, fingerprints and so on. I recall a case from Iraq in which the body of an alleged victim had been buried on the same day, in accordance with Muslim custom, in a cemetery in Najaf which covers 1,500 acres. No Iraqi witness could pinpoint the exact place and, accordingly, there could be no pathological investigation of the cause of death—indeed, in that case, it was an issue as to whether anybody had been killed at all.

It is obvious, therefore, that investigations may be protracted. It is equally obvious that the possibility of prosecution cannot be held over a service man or woman indefinitely. There has to come a point where a decision is made: should this case proceed, or should it stop? Amendment 6 proposes a workable and practicable code in which the service police or other investigator is supervised and monitored by the Service Prosecuting Authority under the direction of the independent Director of Service Prosecutions. Within six months of the report of allegations to the service police, an investigator has to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of criminal conduct to refer the investigation to the SPA. Once he is so satisfied, he must make that report within 21 days, submitting his case papers to date for consideration.

Under the proposed subsection (4), the SPA has power to

“order the investigation to cease if it considers it unlikely that charges will be brought.”

Alternatively, the SPA will advise and direct the investigator on the issues he needs to clarify and the direction in which his inquiry should proceed. If the investigation proceeds, the code in Amendment 6 requires that it be reviewed by the SPA every three months, when a fresh decision will be made on whether to cease or proceed with the investigation. On its conclusion, the investigator must send his final report, with accompanying case papers, to the SPA.

The case cannot be reopened at the whim of the investigators. The consent of the Director of Service Prosecutions would have to be sought and granted only on the grounds that there is new and compelling evidence or information that might materially affect the previous decision to close the investigation and might lead to a charge being made. A decision to reopen would, of course, be challengeable by judicial review. As a final back-up, the Judge Advocate-General is given power to give practice directions for these procedures.

So there we have it: a code tailored for the particular circumstances and difficult environment of overseas operations. I shall be moving Amendment 6 in due course. But I also add my support to Amendment 1. The position of the DSP has evolved. Amendment 1 emphasises an important part of his role—considering the public and the service interest in deciding to prosecute and, namely, whether a fair trial might be prejudiced by delay.

The answer to the problem of delay is not to introduce the concept, novel to serious offences in the criminal law of this country, of presumption against prosecution after an arbitrary period of five years has elapsed. Let us take a likely scenario: an ex-soldier confesses to shooting a wounded prisoner, but no evidence emerges for 10 years because the “wall of silence” of his comrades —a phrase used by the trial judge in the case of Baha Musa—has protected him.

Blanket walls of silence appear in other contexts. I once prosecuted a prisoner and extracted a confession from a fellow prisoner of the abduction and murder of a little girl four years before. The first prisoner said nothing of the man’s confession for five years. But then he became an evangelical Christian and finally reported it to the prison governor. The Government say that for such a heinous crime as shooting a wounded prisoner, the presumption would probably be waived, but by whom? Who would decide whether the threshold of heinousness had been passed? If the presumption would be waived routinely so that every murder in theatre should be prosecuted, then murder as a crime should appear in the schedule to this Bill. But if that is resisted—if there are to be degrees of murder so that the presumption would be waived in one instance but not another—what are the criteria?

I turned to the Bill to see what factors are referred to. First, it is immaterial

“whether or not there is sufficient evidence to justify prosecution”

according to Clause 1(2). Secondly, the status of the person killed is not a factor for consideration. As to whether the victim is a combatant or a civilian, captured or wounded, man, woman or child, no factors relating to the murdered person are mentioned in Clauses 1 to 3.

What the prosecutor must consider, however, is the adverse effect of operations on the perpetrator, the conditions he was exposed to and the strains and stresses of combat. But here is the most surprising thing: it is not the effect on the individual under suspicion that is considered—how he personally was affected by the exigencies of service, how he suffered from “shellshock”, to use the First World War phrase. It is not like the case of Sergeant Blackman, who remembered, after he had been convicted but in time for his appeal, that he had personally been suffering from stress, and his responsibility was thereby diminished. No; Clause 2(3) provides that

“the prosecutor must have regard to the exceptional demands and stresses to which members of Her Majesty’s forces are likely to be subject while deployed on overseas operations, regardless of their length of service, rank or personal resilience.”

The test is objective. The presumption against prosecution applies even if the personal resilience of the soldier who commits murder or a war crime is such that he is unaffected by the stresses of combat. It is a charter for the callous, psychopathic killer hiding in a military uniform.

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Moved by
6: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Investigation of allegations related to overseas operations
(1) In deciding whether to commence criminal proceedings for allegations against a member of Her Majesty’s Forces arising out of overseas operations, the relevant prosecutor must take into account whether the investigation has been timely and comprehensively conducted.(2) Where an investigator of allegations arising out of overseas operations is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of criminal conduct to continue the investigation, the investigator must within 21 days refer the investigation to the Service Prosecuting Authority with any initial findings and accompanying case papers.(3) An investigation may not proceed after the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which the allegation was first reported without the reference required in subsection (2). (4) On receiving a referral under subsection (2), the Service Prosecuting Authority must either—(a) order the investigation to cease if it considers it unlikely that charges will be brought, or(b) give appropriate advice and directions to the investigator about avenues of inquiry to pursue and not pursue, including—(i) possible defendants to consider,(ii) possible explanations to consider for the circumstances giving rise to the investigation, and(iii) overseas inquiries and seeking the help of overseas jurisdictions.(5) Where the investigation proceeds, the Service Prosecuting Authority must monitor and review its progress at intervals of three months and must on each review make a decision in the terms set out in subsection (4).(6) On the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator must send a final report with accompanying case papers to the Service Prosecuting Authority for the consideration of criminal proceedings.(7) After receipt of the final report, the facts and circumstances of the allegations may not be further investigated or reinvestigated without the direction of the Director of Service Prosecutions acting on the ground that there is new compelling evidence or information which might—(a) materially affect the previous decision, and(b) lead to a charge being made.(8) The Judge Advocate General may give Practice Directions as he or she deems appropriate for the investigation of allegations arising out of overseas operations.(9) For the purposes of this section—“investigator” means a member of the service police or a civil police force;“case papers” includes summaries of interviews or other accounts given by the suspect, previous convictions and disciplinary record, available witness statements, scenes of crime photographs, CCTV recordings, medical and forensic science reports.”
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister’s response to Amendment 6—on the necessity of monitoring investigations to ensure that they are timely, effective and not continuously repeated—was to defend the status quo when the current system has manifestly not prevented delays, shoddy investigations and reinvestigations casting a shadow over serving members of the Armed Forces and veterans. I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

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Moved by
7: Clause 8, leave out Clause 8
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in speaking to these amendments, my first point is that legitimate claims for misconduct by British troops involved in overseas operations are a fact that has to be faced, however unpalatable that is. According to a Written Answer given to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, on 15 June last year,

“in excess of 1,330 claims”

have been brought against the MoD since 2003, and they have been settled at a cost of some £32 million. Nobody suggests that these were not proper claims. Indeed, the noble Baroness said:

“The claims received focus predominately on alleged unlawful detention but many incorporate allegations of mistreatment at the hands of British military personnel.”

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The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said that he would not seek a vote on his amendments. I conclude by urging the noble Lords responsible for the other amendment to withdraw it.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for their support for my Amendments 7 and 8. I am also grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, for pointing to the difficulties for MoD civilians who are deployed on overseas matters.

The argument put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, is that Amendment 13 would not apply to them. It would discriminate against them because they are not included—so what do you do? You do not add in the MoD civilian employees; you reduce the rights of the combatants—it seems completely topsy-turvy. Another argument is: everything is okay because, when the guillotine comes down, there will only be a few people left on the other side. I do not think that that is a proper basis for a policy.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, for answering the questions that I posed, and I shall study his answers with care. When he said that these proposals encourage civil claims to be brought more promptly, I reflected that, not an hour or two ago, the Government resisted the code that I proposed, in Amendment 6, to do precisely that in criminal matters. I argued there for matters to be brought more promptly, and the Government resisted those proposals—but I am pleased to see that the amendment passed.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, said that there are factors unique to overseas operations that prevent, rather than allow, the extension of time. Overseas operations are extremely difficult, as was discussed in earlier debates; it is extremely difficult to pursue a claim, to get the evidence right and to get the advice, witnesses and so on. You would have thought that overseas operations would allow for more time to bring an action, not less.

The balance, apparently, is to be struck such that the problems of investigating witnesses’ memories are to come before the death or mutilation of a victim. The Welshpool figure of justice, with the scales of justice permanently tilted in one direction, comes to mind.

I have indicated that I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 7 and shall not move Amendment 8, but we shall certainly support Amendment 13 when it is put.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.
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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution which I hope may assist the progress of the debate on this amendment. I am very conscious that I have been unable to radiate much cheer this afternoon, so I will try to do better. As the noble and learned Lord has stated, Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that, subject to certain conditions, states may derogate from—that is, temporarily suspend—relevant human rights obligations. Clause 12 would require any Government in future to consider whether to make a derogation under Article 15 in relation to significant overseas operations.

I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his analytical clarity in addressing the issue surrounding Clause 12. He has been persistent in his focus on this issue and I thank him for that close attention. He is correct that the ability under Article 15 to derogate in appropriate circumstances would remain and would not be affected by the removal of Clause 12 from the Bill. It is also the case that the removal of Clause 12 would not prevent the Government from making a conscious decision when committing the Armed Forces to significant overseas operations as to whether it is necessary to avail themselves of the suspension mechanism created by Article 15 of the ECHR. It is important to recall that, if the UK did decide to so derogate in relation to a specific future overseas military operation, it would not prevent Armed Forces personnel or the MoD from being held to account.

Having listened closely to the issues raised about the way in which the Government have presented this clause—as I promised the noble and learned Lord in Committee I would do—and, although the Government consider that there was a place for originally including the clause in the Bill, I have detected that the House is sympathetic to the representations of the noble and learned Lord, and that there is a general consensus across the House for the removal of this clause. I am therefore pleased to confirm that the Government will accept the noble and learned Lord’s amendment to remove Clause 12 from the Bill.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am relieved to hear the Minister’s statement concerning Clause12 and its removal. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, asked who the message was to be sent to. The proposal to give notice to a potential enemy that British forces would not be bound by the restraints of the European Convention on Human Rights was truly alarming. It would have exposed our troops in the field to reciprocal treatment.

I followed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in Committee in pointing out the utter uselessness of this clause anyway, in that it could not deal with those most pertinent and significant rights in the covenant from which no derogation is possible. It did not even try to mirror the circumstances of war or national emergency contained in Article 15, which permit derogation only in very strict circumstances. I do not propose to repeat that analysis.

The Government have thought again on the desirability of this clause. I urge them to think again on the desirability of the whole Bill. I urge them to pull the whole Bill and bring it back in the next Session after proper consultation. I do not say this from any party-political position but wearing the hat of the chair of the Association of Military Court Advocates. I cannot say that I am speaking for that association because no meetings have been possible during the pandemic, but you will appreciate that its members’ primary concern is with defending the ordinary service man or woman in courts martial, many of which relate to overseas operations.

For the reasons which I gave in relation to Amendments 1 and 6 and will not repeat at this stage, this Bill does not protect our service men and women. The only body protected by the Bill is the Ministry of Defence, probably for the ignoble reason given in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy: to save a bob or two. It is badly thought out, with many omissions and with repercussions that were not understood, not least in its failure to carry out the manifesto commitment of the Government to give statutory force to the military covenant—a matter which we shall shortly discuss. So, they should pull it now, and by all means bring it back in the next Session in a form which will be of use to and protect serving seamen, soldiers and airmen, without the ill thought-out provisions which expose them to danger. I say to the Government: pull the Bill.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, I too welcome the Minister’s statement. As I have reminded the House, the Government’s justification for this clause to amend the Human Rights Act 1998 was to reflect the undertaking of a ministerial Statement by the then Defence Secretary, and repeated in this House by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on 10 October 2016. If the Government still stand by it, it is worth recalling parts of that Statement. It explained that in overseas operations our personnel have had to face growing legal uncertainty and an unprecedented level of litigation. The Statement said that

“the resulting uncertainties have been distressing to many current personnel and veterans, and military advice is that there is a risk of seriously undermining the operational effectiveness of the armed forces”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/10/16; col. 3WS]

I draw attention to the risk mentioned in that Statement—the risk of seriously undermining the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces when engaged in conflict.

The Bill does not adequately address the growing concern that commanders of whatever rank may, for fear of later legal challenge or charge, be unsure or inhibited in the orders or directions they give to engage and defeat an enemy in the course of conflict. Statements about combat immunity in relation to human rights legislation lack the precision required for conflict. To state that a court should be

“very slow … to question operational decisions made on the ground by commanders, whatever their rank or level of seniority”

lacks precision for commanders at the time, on the spot. Even before a case reaches court, the accused will be subject to worries and uncertainty for weeks, months and even years while evidence is collected, witnesses identified and prosecuting authorities decide whether to take the case to court for trial. Some might even describe this as mental torture.

In Smith, the judgment was that there is a “middle ground” between close combat on the one hand and political direction on the other about the allocation of resources, where the actions or omissions of individual service personnel can be determined only on the evidence ex post facto—that is, a review far removed in time, place and emotion from the possible extreme dangers of the moment.

I am not questioning these well-argued legal judgments but drawing attention to a mismatch—and I think it is important to draw attention to it—between the disciplinary dictates of the Armed Forces Act and human rights legislation that may arise when service personnel are at or near to war. I drew attention to this in 1998, when debating what is now the Human Rights Act 1998. Regrettably, this Bill does not address this issue, in spite of the Defence Secretary’s Statement. One must hope that the human rights review now being undertaken by Sir Peter Gross—he has assured me that the issue of combat immunity will be considered—will provide a workable solution.

Meanwhile, Clause 12 provided for no more than was originally and clearly stated at the time the Human Rights Bill was being debated in 1998. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, said, and these words are well rehearsed already:

“I also remind your Lordships and the noble and gallant Lord—


that is me—

that under Article 15 of the convention a state may, in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation, take measures derogating from its obligations under the convention to the extent required by the exigencies of the situation.”—[Official Report, 5/2/1998; col. 768.]

The noble and learned Lord further asserted that the human rights convention was a flexible instrument. I fear that is now rather a dubious claim. Clause 12 added nothing to what was made clear in 1998, and I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.

Moved by
21: Clause 11, page 7, line 23, at end insert—
“(c) the importance of the proceedings in securing the rights of the claimant.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment adds a further consideration to which UK courts must have particular regard when determining whether to disapply the standard HRA limitation period of one year so as to ensure that the claimant’s interest in having their claim proceed is not subordinated.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I will start with a quote on how the court approaches the extinction of the limitation period in any category of case:

“It is for the court to examine in the circumstances of each case all the relevant factors and then decide whether it is equitable to provide for a longer period. It may be necessary in the circumstances of a particular case to look at objective and subjective factors; proportionality will generally be taken into account. It is not in my view appropriate to say that one particular factor has as a matter of general approach a greater weight than others. The court should look at the matter broadly and attach such weight as is appropriate in each given case.”


I am quoting from the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, in the case of Dunn v Parole Board in 2008.

The standard limitation period is three years for tortious claims for personal injury and wrongful death, and one year for claims under the Human Rights Act. The limitation periods can be extended by an application to the court on the principles I have quoted.

This Bill introduces factors in Clause 8(1)(b) and in paragraph 1(4) of Schedule 1 and—in relation to Human Rights Act claims—in Clause 11(2), which inserts new Section 7A into the Human Rights Act. The purpose of introducing these additional factors that a court must take into account in claims arising from overseas operations is to introduce a degree of bias into the equation. The Bill requires that the court pay “particular regard” to the impact of the operational context on the ability of members of HM Forces to fully or accurately recall events and the degree of

“dependence on the memory of such individuals”

for the cogency of the evidence, as well as the impact on the mental health of Her Majesty’s Forces witnesses caused by the proceedings.

Over the past 20 years, in the field of criminal law and procedure, the victim has been put at the forefront. I think it was the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who emphasised that, in particular when she was Attorney-General. Everything has been done to try to make it easy for victims in criminal courts to complain in the first place—not least in cases involving sexual offences. Special measures have been introduced to that end.

In dealing with civil claims by victims, the thrust of this Bill is entirely to reverse that position. The concentration is now on fairness to the alleged perpetrators of the acts from which the victims suffered and which are the foundation of their claims. Special weight must be given to a declaration by a serving soldier or veteran of the possibility that his memory will be affected and his comfort zone invaded by the stresses and strains of giving evidence about things he would prefer to forget. This is so even if the victim happens to be a fellow service man or woman. It is not even as if this hurdle is placed on people because they are foreigners whose country we have invaded in order to save them from the particular regime under which they are suffering. It would of course be disgraceful if such a distinction were ever made between service victims and foreign victims. So what is the rationale for these provisions which introduce factors to alter the balance of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, spoke, and weigh down in favour of the MoD?

On Tuesday, I spoke about vexatious claims. I pointed out that I witnessed an Iraqi woman withdrawing her claims of sexual assault and admitting in court that they were false. There were vexatious claims, stirred up by English lawyers for their own gain. Our legal system is robust and it dealt with the claims by striking them out and by disciplinary actions against the lawyers concerned which effectively removed them from circulation.

But not every claim brought by a victim is vexatious. We have to face the fact that some are legitimate. As I said on Tuesday, my Written Questions to the Minister on 2 June 2020 revealed that, since 2003, 1,330 claims arising from the treatment of foreign victims by British personnel had been accepted and £32 million paid in compensation. The Answer to my Questions also revealed that not a single serviceman, however responsible he might have been for the victim’s claim, has had to pay damages or compensation out of his own resources. The MoD has covered them all—and it claims that it does not settle claims which it does not believe to be meritorious.

If we look elsewhere for confirmation, in its final report published on 9 December 2020 entitled Situation in Iraq/UK, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court concluded that the information available provides

“a reasonable basis to believe that … members of UK armed forces in Iraq committed the war crime of wilful killing/murder … at a minimum, against seven persons in their custody. The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that … members of UK armed forces committed the war crime of torture and inhuman/cruel treatment … and the war crime of outrages upon personal dignity …against at least 54 persons in their custody.”

The prosecutor also found that there was a reasonable basis to believe that there were seven victims of sexual violence. It is impossible, regrettable as it may be, to dismiss the claims brought by victims as being vexatious. As a civilised country, we must face up to that fact and ensure as far as we can that the disciplines are in place which prevent these things happening.

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Because the amendment will risk introducing additional legal complexity and because the Bill as it stands seeks rather to redress the balance by acknowledging the circumstances of overseas operations, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his response. This is one of those unusual situations where I can thank every single Lord, including him, who has spoken in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, in particular, gave very interesting support in spirit to what we seek to do. We just do not want these additional factors to be given statutory force. It undoubtedly gives the impression of bias to pay “particular regard” to matters in favour of only one party, the Ministry of Defence. I do not want to see those there, and if they are not there, there is no need for the amendment I am putting forward in an attempt to balance the biased effect of what is in the Bill.

It is extremely important that we should not pay “particular regard” to matters in the interests of one party. If we think about an application to extend the limitation period brought to the court, the claimant would be represented and would argue the reasons for delay. As I said on Tuesday, it is not a foregone conclusion that their argument will be accepted but, on the other hand, the Ministry would be entitled to put forward: “Well, it’s been such a long time, nobody can remember anything.” That might be right in a particular case, but it is not right as a matter of principle that should appear as a factor to which particular regard must be given in this statute. An important point of principle is involved in this and I shall certainly return to the issue on Report. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 21 withdrawn.
Moved by
22: Clause 11, page 7, line 30, leave out from “before” to end of line 34 and insert “the end of the period of 6 years beginning with the date of knowledge.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is one of a series that change the relevant date from which the six-year longstop starts to run so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing claims under the HRA arising out of overseas operations.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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[Inaudible]—that date will be either the date on which the act complained of took place or, alternatively, the date of knowledge of the cause of the action; for example, where a person is unaware of his right to sue or of the negligence which caused his injuries. Clause 11 introduces the concept of a cut-off date, whereby the judge loses any power to extend and the cause of action is extinguished for good.

This will be unique in the British system of justice, as we have discussed. A new category of claims arising out of overseas operations will be created. The rule set out in the Bill is that proceedings must be brought before the later of

“the end of a period of six years beginning on the date on which the act complained of took place”

or

“the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the date of knowledge”.

Whatever the cause of delay in starting proceedings may be, such as brain injury received by an injured serviceman, or the inherent problems that would face a victim living in some dusty village in Iraq or Afghanistan, about which I spoke at length on Tuesday and will not repeat, the rule is to apply not only in the courts of England and Wales, but in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Remember that the judge has power to strike out vexatious claims and that we are talking about claims against the Ministry of Defence, not the individual serviceman, who will never be called upon, whatever he has done, to pay the damages awarded. The worst that can happen to him is that, in the event of non-settlement of the case—I believe that over 90% of claims regarded as valid are settled—he might have to give evidence in the witness box and recall what he has done.

Amendment 24 refers to the definition of the date of knowledge. The Bill says that

“the ‘date of knowledge’ means the date on which the person bringing the proceedings first knew, or first ought to have known, both … of the act complained of, and … that it was an act of the Ministry of Defence or the Secretary of State for Defence”.

Our amendment adds further definitions of the date of knowledge—first, the date of

“the manifestation of the harm resulting from that act”,

and secondly, the knowledge that the claimant was eligible to bring a claim under the Human Rights Act in the courts of the United Kingdom.

Amendment 47 and the other amendments in this group are consequential or extend that principle to Scotland and Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I have little to add to the brief but very pertinent analysis in the most persuasive speech by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I support Amendment 22 in particular as one of a series of amendments that change the relevant date from which the longstop starts to run to account for explicable delays commonly experienced by bringing claims under the HRA arising out of overseas operations.

I shall be brief. My experience of overseas operations in the Cold War was limited. As an infantry subaltern, my tour of duty in Germany was very brief, taking part in exercises over German planes and Gatow airport in Berlin and being in charge of the overnight train from Hanover to Berlin to emphasise our rights to go through the Russian zone to the British sector in Berlin.

Given my very limited experience, which I emphasise, I can quite see the circumstances for delay when advice and witness are not readily available. When active service is involved, in very different and hazardous conditions overseas, the timing of knowledge that is the basis of this amendment goes to the heart of the matter. The mover of Amendment 22, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, seeks to put into the Bill some statutory flexibility around the date of knowledge. There is nothing that I can usefully add, but I support with great pleasure this amendment, because knowledge is vital.

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For all the reasons I have advanced, I recommend that the amendment is withdrawn at this stage.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this interesting and important debate. I cannot help taking myself back to RAF Gatow, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, referred, because I once stayed there on a rugby tour and subsequently played rugby for the combined clubs of Berlin. I need not go into the circumstances, but it was in the 1938 Olympic stadium. I thank him for reminding me of that.

Finality is an important principle, but it is not a principle that should work in the interests of only one party; I am yet to see it discussed or suggested, in relation to this Bill, that finality is for anyone other than the Ministry of Defence. Of course, references are made to the stress of giving evidence and so on, but I have already commented on that and will not repeat my comments. I do not think the principle of finality in favour of one party does anything more than increase the feeling of bias in favour of the Ministry of Defence which runs through this Bill, and that is what makes it so very objectionable. I heard the Minister refer to the fact the Human Rights Act is not affected but would not be involved in one of my amendments. These are not intended to be cumulative but to be considered separately; the date of knowledge can vary depending upon the circumstances of the case.

I simply adopt the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, for whose speech I am grateful, when he said these amendments are “irresistible.” I agree, and I shall pursue them on Report. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 22 withdrawn.
Moved by
23: Clause 11, page 7, line 34, at end insert—
“(4A) The court may disapply the rule in subsection (1)(b) where it appears to the court that it would be equitable to do so having regard to the reasons for the delay, in particular whether the delay resulted from—(a) the nature of the injuries,(b) logistical difficulties in securing the services required to bring a claim, so long as the claimant was making all reasonable attempts to secure such services, or(c) any other reasons outside the control of the person bringing the claim.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment introduces a discretion for UK courts to allow a HRA claim arising out of overseas operations to proceed in prescribed circumstances so as to account for legitimate and explicable delays commonly experienced by persons bringing such claims.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this group is concerned with the total cut-off of the right to bring proceedings, as contained in the Bill. As I have said, this is unique in the British justice system and limited to claims arising from overseas operations. You could call it the cliff edge, the blank wall, or hitting the buffers. We are dealing not with vexatious claims but all claims brought against the Ministry of Defence, whether by members of Her Majesty’s Forces, by victims whose claims arise by breaches of the Human Rights Act, such as torture, or by families whose claims arise because someone has been killed or injured. What is the policy behind this blank wall?

It is noticeable that this Bill does not cover Northern Ireland. I should be very interested and surprised if, when a Bill involving Northern Ireland appears, there was such a cut-off—such a blank wall—in relation to claims arising out of those deployments. I imagine that there might be considerable controversy. If it would not apply in Northern Ireland, why should a soldier suffering from long-term trauma as a result of service there be able to apply to extend the limitation period, in an appropriate case, but a soldier deployed to Iraq should not? What difference could be drawn between innocent victims of brutality in Northern Ireland or in Iraq? Their ethnicity? Is this not where Article 14 of the Human Rights Convention would bite?

I cannot believe that this is a policy to save the MoD money. What Liberal Democrat would ever make the bold statement of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, that it is to save “a few bob”? What worries me is whether it is fuelled by a concern to prevent reputational damage. British forces have an admirable reputation worldwide for fairness and exemplary behaviour. Allegations of brutal conduct aired in the courts would not help, but it is essential to our reputation that, where there is wrongdoing, it is confronted and punished. There should be no suggestion that we sweep things under the carpet. I hope that that is not what lies behind this blank wall preventing claims after six years.

There is certainly a public interest in finality, but there is also a public interest in justice. These amendments are brought forward to get rid of the blank wall and to put claims from overseas operations on the same footing as all other claims brought before the British courts and tribunals. I ask again: what is the policy behind these unique, blank-wall provisions? I beg to move.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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The noble Lord, Lord Hendy, has withdrawn from this debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

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However, I submit that we must move towards providing that greater certainty which will reassure service personnel and veterans. Therefore, while I acknowledge the words of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that these matters will be returned to, I recommend that these amendments are not pressed.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his definition of the policy behind these provisions in the Bill. He said that we have a blank wall in the Bill because of concern for witnesses. Let us just pause for a moment and think about that. The prime witness is the person who perpetrated the act that is the cause of the claim. I refer to the reversal of the victim and perpetrator situation that I mentioned earlier this afternoon. The perpetrator must be protected from having to relive the violence that he inflicted on the claimant. What about witnesses—his “comrades”, the noble and learned Lord described them as? I am in a rugby mood at the moment, and I cannot help thinking of the out of order principle on the rugby field. A degree of violence is accepted, but when you see a member of the team stamping on the face of a person in the opposition, yards away from the ball, the out of order principle comes into effect. So the policy behind these provisions is so that the comrade, who may very well think that it was all out of order—that is why he is giving evidence—must be protected in case he suffers stress. It is a topsy-turvy world, it is not? Surely it is the victim’s interest that is the most important thing.

I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for his contribution. He is a former Minister of State in the Ministry of Justice and he said, in terms, “I don’t really see the purpose of these provisions”. I agree with him. All the provisions relating to limitation are unnecessary, and the Limitation Act, with all those particular matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, referred in reminding us of its contents, is quite sufficient to deal with all the problems. What is not acceptable is the blank wall which prevents, in this single category, the continuation of proceedings if the six-year limitation period is attained. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, war is dangerous, complex and messy, as are the situations around it. What we should not have, in particular where it is complex and messy, are barriers to justice, and that is what these provisions do. Why? To prevent people going into the witness box. The whole concept of justice is turned topsy-turvy.

I hope I will return to this, with the support of other noble Lords—I welcome that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in particular—on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment for the moment.

Amendment 23 withdrawn.
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I therefore ask the question: is Article 5, the right to liberty, what this clause is all about? Or is there some other purpose? Is it there simply to send a message? If so, to whom, and why, and what is the message? These are vital questions and, unless the Minister can give clear and convincing answers to them, I suggest that the clause should be removed from the Bill.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the analysis of the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken. I am very impressed by his view, and I agree with him. I have written extensively and admiringly about the first Earl of Minto—a significant but forgotten governor-general of India in Napoleonic times. He oversaw overseas operations in 1811, he drove the French out of the Indian Ocean at Martinique and Reunion and captured Java from the Dutch at the Battle of Cornelis. He could boast to Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister, that the French and their allies had been banished all the way from the Cape of Good Hope eastwards to Cape Horn. He abolished slavery wherever he found it, and cast instruments of torture into the sea.

The radical MP and pamphleteer William Cobbett was not enthusiastic. Writing from prison, where he spent more time than he did in the House of Commons, he warned that the conquest of Java was of no value. It was a country of the same extent as Britain but with 30 million people—nearly twice the population of this country at the time. He said that it placed upon the British

“the trouble of governing, especially in those two important particulars, the administration of justice and the collection and disposal of the revenues; that is to say, the absolute power over men’s lives and purses.”

So it was in Basra and in Helmand Province. It was precisely those considerations—power over men’s lives—that caused the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights unanimously to conclude that one of the exceptional circumstances in which the European Convention on Human Rights would apply extraterritorially was when a state bound by the ECHR exercised public powers on the territory of another state. In Iraq the UK had assumed the powers normally to be exercised by a sovereign Government—in particular, responsibility for the maintenance of security in south-east Iraq.

In a later case, in 2011, the European Court of Human Rights held that the UK’s power to detain prisoners in Iraq gave jurisdiction to a finding that the UK had violated Article 5 of the ECHR, the right to liberty and security. In July 2013 the Supreme Court here upheld a claim on behalf of British service personnel who were killed as a result of friendly fire—the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, referred. The claim was founded on both a violation of human rights and civil liability for negligence in the provision of training and equipment.

The Supreme Court held that a soldier had the protection of Article 2 of the ECHR, the right to life. The Equality and Human Rights Commission commented that the ruling of the Supreme Court had provided

“a reasonable balance between the operational needs of our armed forces and the rights of those serving in our armed forces to be protected in the same way as we expect them to protect the rights of civilians abroad”.

This upset Conservative elements in the coalition Government, but they could do nothing with their Liberal Democrat colleagues at their side. However, in March 2016, when the Liberal Democrats had gone, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, then Minister of State for Justice, said that the Defence and Justice Secretaries were preparing a legislative package to “redress the balance”.

Indeed, in the 2016 Conservative Party general election campaign, a strident call was put out to scrap the Human Rights Act. That had been watered down by the 2019 election manifesto into a call for a committee —chaired, I thought, by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, but perhaps there is another chairman now. We await the committee’s deliberations breathlessly.

I was, therefore, rather surprised to observe the cautious nature of Clause 12. It imposes statutory duties on the Secretary of State to “consider” whether to derogate under Article 15. One would expect him to consider that when deploying forces in overseas operations. The problem is that Article 15 gives power to derogate only

“in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation.”

The power to derogate may be exercised only where strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. As noble Lords have said, it is not possible to derogate from Article 2—the right to life,

“except in respect of deaths resulting from lawful acts of war.”

It is also not possible to derogate from Article 3, on the prohibition of torture; Article 4, on the prohibition of servitude or forced labour; or Article 7, on no punishment without law. I realise that I am repeating what has already been said.

The UK gave notice of derogation in relation to the situation in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, so that it could take powers of arrest, detention and internment without trial. In 2001, following 9/11, we issued a notice of derogation concerning the power to detain foreign nationals without trial. France similarly exercised the power to derogate following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. Other countries, such as Ukraine, have also done so when the life of the nation was threatened.

On investigating Clause 12 of the Bill, however, one sees that the circumstances in which the Secretary of State must consider derogation are not at all those as set out in Article 15. The clause provides for a scenario for operations

“outside the British Islands in the course of which members of those forces may come under attack or face the threat of attack or violent resistance”.

Of course, those circumstances do not, of themselves, give rise to a power to derogate. Can the Minister please explain why the preconditions in Article 15(1) do not appear in the Bill as the trigger for the Minister’s consideration of whether to derogate?

One academic lawyer described the cry in the 2016 Conservative manifesto to scrap the Human Rights Act as clickbait. That is all this clause amounts to. If your Lordships require confirmation, they have only to turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier. For them, the trumpet sounds with an uncertain note in the Bill as promoted. In their amendment we see the red meat. “Do not bother about derogating from the ECHR, just say ‘No claim can be brought under the Human Rights Act, derogation or no derogation’—that’s it.” I can only assume that the clarion call of Mrs May to scrap the Human Rights Act is about to emerge from the independent commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks.

If the two leading lawyers on the Conservative Benches think this is a useless provision, perhaps they will join the rest of us in throwing it out.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, once more I have the daunting privilege of following the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I will avoid repetition and begin by dealing briefly with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks.

First, I will deal with my own moral position in relation to human rights in overseas operations. I am quite clear that, in a wartime situation, in the heat of conflict, there will and must be a very tailored and limited application of rights and freedoms as we normally understand them domestically, in peacetime. However, the Bill covers all overseas operations, such as peacekeeping, covert operations and the policing and rule of law-establishing operations of an occupying force.

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab) [V]
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I am speaking in support of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe and his amendment. Of course, it would be open to the Minister not just to embrace this amendment but to go further; and not to wait for 12 months, but assure your Lordships that the Government will provide legal advice and support and, if necessary, representation to any member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces who has need of it as a result of an overseas operation—whether they are an anxious suspect, an anxious defendant, an anxious witness to civil proceedings or, indeed, whether they are suing the MoD. It seems an absolute no-brainer, given speech after speech in both Houses about the anxiety that the interaction between law and war is causing our personnel. Why would the Government bring forward a Bill that causes such controversy and restricts the reach of the law without first giving the assurance that we would all like to hear from the Minister? Can the Government do this? Can the Government honour our existing service personnel and veterans with an automatic right to advice and representation, whenever they have need of it, as a result—from whatever perspectives I have described—of serving the Crown?

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this is a very important amendment and I support it thoroughly. I should declare to your Lordships that I am still chairman of the Association of Military Court Advocates. Although I am not in receipt of legal aid in respect of any case at the moment, I have received legal aid on many occasions in the past. In my experience, the legal aid authority was excellent, probably ahead of its civil counterparts in supporting counsel and solicitors who were defending servicemen, whether in this country or abroad.

There are particular circumstances that apply in this field which do not apply in ordinary civil practice. First, there are a limited number of military court advocates, mostly people who have some experience of the service. Secondly, the courts are at a distance. Catterick and Bulford—or occasionally Colchester—are at opposite ends of the country. There is also a very experienced military lawyer in Northern Ireland who deals with issues that derive there. In addition to court appearances, it is necessary to give protection to soldiers facing charges and to Air Force and Navy personnel. It is necessary to be in at the beginning, which requires driving long miles to various bases to be present at interviews, to be present when a person is charged and to give advice. There are particular exigencies in this type of practice. Full support from legal aid, which in my experience has been given in the past, is essential for the system to work well. As in every part of the justice system where people are properly represented, a fair result is likely to be arrived at.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, again I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for raising this issue. I have looked at his proposed new clause in Amendment 30, which would indeed require the Government to commission and publish an independent evaluation of legal aid for service personnel and veterans in relation to the criminal legal proceedings covered by the Bill. I repeat the assertion to which the noble Lord himself referred: the MoD has a long-standing policy that, where a serviceperson or veteran faces criminal allegations in relation to incidents arising from his or her duty on operations, the MoD may fund their legal support and provide pastoral support for as long as necessary. We offer this because it is right that we look after our Armed Forces, both in the battlefield, where they face the traditional risk of death or injury, as well as in the courts, particularly if they face the risk of a conviction and a possible prison sentence. Because of the risks our service personnel and veterans face, our legal support offer is very thorough. I will set out some of its provisions.

The legal aid provided by the Armed Forces legal aid scheme provides publicly funded financial assistance for some or all of the costs of legal representation for defendants and appellants who, first, appeal against findings and/or punishment following summary hearings at unit level, including applications for extensions of the appeal period by the Summary Appeal Court, for leave to appeal out of time. Secondly, it covers those who have a case referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions for a decision on whether the charges will result in a prosecution. This includes offences under Schedule 2 to the Armed Forces Act 2006 referred directly to the Director of Service Prosecutions by the service police, as well as matters referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions by the commanding officer. Thirdly, it covers those who are to be tried in the court martial of the Service Civilian Court; fourthly, those who wish to appeal in the court martial against the finding and/or sentence after trial in the Service Civilian Court; and, fifthly, those to be tried in a criminal court outside the UK.

If I have not responded to all the questions asked by the noble Lord, I apologise, and I shall look at Hansard and attempt to respond further. I will explain that the legal aid scheme applies equally to all members of the Armed Forces, including the Reserve Forces when they are subject to service law, as well as to civilians who are or were subject to service discipline at the time of an alleged incident. Importantly, this system is based upon the same basic principles as the civilian criminal legal aid scheme in England and Wales. The Armed Forces scheme is designed to mirror the civilian scheme while making necessary adjustments to take into account the specific circumstances and needs of defendants and appellants in the service justice system.

As a result of that system, I am confident we already ensure service personnel and veterans are properly supported when they are affected by criminal legal proceedings. A review of legal aid, as proposed by the amendment, is unnecessary, given how comprehensive our legal support package is. In these circumstances, I urge the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, to withdraw his amendment.

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I have a final word on this understanding of a presumption not to prosecute. It will help investigators and possible victims to get to the truth, because soldiers will know that they can answer questions designed to establish the facts of the matter without fearing that the questioning will inexorably lead to a prosecution. Of course, if there is new and compelling evidence against someone, that is a different matter—but most investigations merely set out to establish the facts of an incident. That is a right and proper process, which in the majority of cases should be conducted free from the shadow of prosecution. I beg to move.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dannatt, whom I greatly respect. He has raised some of the issues that we have been discussing over the last two days. I have made my views well known on those aspects, and I do not propose to challenge what he has just said. He is absolutely right in requiring there to be a duty of care set out in statute—a touchstone whereby the ways in which service personnel are dealt with can be tested.

In our own way, those who have practised in courts martial have seen the sort of improvements to which the noble and gallant Lord referred. I recall that, at the first court martial that I went to, there was a lot of swishing of swords—swords pointed at the guilty man when the decision was announced, and so on. Also, I think I played some part in the abolition of the process whereby an accused in a Navy court martial was marched into the court with a cutlass at his back. I put down a Question questioning that particular practice and, when I got up to hear the Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, he announced that the practice had been abolished. But that is only symbolic of the very considerable changes that have taken place in the court martial system, which I believe have brought greater fairness and fewer problems of what one might call “shock and awe”—of a soldier going in to stand trial before a court martial of senior officers. In that way, we have sought I think to modernise the old court martial system, and we have been successful in that. If that sort of movement could be applied generally and not just in the very narrow area to which I have referred, it would be a very good thing. I wholly support the noble and gallant Lord in his amendment.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, I speak in support of this amendment, to which I have attached my name. In doing so, I convey the apologies of my noble and gallant friend Lord Boyce, whose name is also on the amendment but who is prevented by a medical issue from speaking this afternoon.

To explain why my noble and gallant friend and I support the amendment, it is necessary for me to go back to the very purpose of the Bill. It is in the Minister’s own words to reassure service personnel and veterans that the Government have their back and that they will be offered a degree of protection from the pressures and strains of malicious prosecutions. But the Government know that prosecutions are not the issue; that much has been widely acknowledged during debates on the Bill to this point. It is the seemingly endless cycle of accusations and investigations that is casting such a shadow over our service personnel and veterans, not the prospect of being brought to trial.

It is a principle of our legal system that an accused person is innocent until proved guilty—but this is true only in a narrow legal sense. It simply means that the burden of proof lies with the accuser, not the defender; it does not mean that an accused person is treated as innocent. For example, they may be held in detention. They are certainly subject to the wondering if not outright suspicion of observers, and they certainly suffer the agonies of uncertainty and the mortification of being suspected of and, in the minds of some, guilty of a criminal offence. The strain on them and their families is immense. Can anyone doubt the anguish that assailed those accused as a result of Operation Midland, despite the fact that not only were there no prosecutions but their accuser was shown to be lying? Can anyone deny that they suffered acutely—and in some cases still do?

Accusations must certainly be investigated, but such investigations will bring pain to guilty and innocent alike. How much more is this the case when the investigations are repeated and protracted? That is the evil that this Bill should address. The Government’s view seems to be that it is not possible to legislate on investigations since that would almost certainly increase the risk of UK service personnel and veterans coming under the scrutiny of the International Criminal Court. They have therefore taken an indirect approach to the problem, in the hope that codifying the factors that must be considered by a prosecutor will discourage speculative and malicious accusations. Of course, this is a wholly untested thesis; it may work to an extent, but equally it may have little impact.

For my part, I believe that the Government have by their own lights set themselves an impossible task in this Bill. They have recognised that they cannot address the real problem directly, so has come at it obliquely with a proposition that will have dubious benefits and poses real presentational risks—risks that could harm the reputation of our Armed Forces. Meanwhile, the underlying issue remains: the pressure of investigations. If that cannot be addressed legislatively, it is surely incumbent on the Government to ensure that those accused are supported appropriately during their ordeal—hence this amendment.

If we cannot entirely prevent the suffering, at least let us do all that we can to ameliorate it. The Government may say that they do so already, and there is no need to legislate on the matter, but I would find such a view puzzling. The Government have accepted that prosecutors already take into account the considerations set out in the Bill, but they regard their codification in law as necessary for the reassurance of our military personnel. If they take that view on something that they admit is not the real problem, how can they take a contrary view on something that is? That would seem to me to be an extraordinary contradiction.

The many amendments proposed to this Bill so far have sought largely to ameliorate the harmful effects that it might have. This amendment, on the other hand, seeks to tackle as far as possible the root of the problem that the Bill is intended to address, and I commend it to the Government.