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Combat Immunity

Volume 554: debated on Monday 26 November 2012

Combat immunity is an important legal principle that the MOD is committed to defend. The courts have consistently held that a soldier involved in combat or under an immediate threat should be able to focus on the task of fighting. Constant assessment of personal liability on the battlefield could lead to paralysis across the chain of command and result in military failure and increased loss of life through operational inefficiency. Imposing a duty of care in those circumstances is not appropriate and would reduce operational effectiveness. However, there is a recognised mechanism to compensate for injury or death under existing statutory schemes.

Does the Minister agree, though, that the MOD’s decision not to make a further appeal against the ruling of the Court of Appeal in the case of the late Corporal Stephen Allbutt—I pay tribute to his widow’s courage—is a landmark in respect of combat immunity? Given that the clear consequences of that ruling are that the MOD owes a duty of care properly to equip its troops when they go into battle, does the Minister agree that an urgent review of procurement and training—never mind statutory schemes—is needed in the interests of the safety and morale of our armed forces?

You will understand, Mr Speaker, that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any ongoing legal procedures. The hon. Lady should realise, however, that we are absolutely committed to defending the position of combat immunity. It would be very worrying if soldiers, sailors and airmen in battle were concerned about looking over their shoulders the whole time for fear of legal challenge. Of course we wish people to be properly trained and properly equipped; we are determined that that should happen and we believe that they are so.

All battlefield commanders of whatever rank are given appropriate training and advice on the legal position, from the Geneva convention onwards, and on training with equipment and the like.