Skip to main content

Armed Forces: Protection from Persistent Legal Claims

Volume 608: debated on Monday 18 April 2016

Although we will always investigate serious allegations of wrongdoing, we are committed to ending the large amount of opportunist litigation brought against our armed forces, which places great stress on them, undermines human rights and corrupts our operations. The Prime Minister chaired a National Security Council meeting on the subject in February, which looked at a range of options we have developed, and tasked the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who has responsibility for human rights, and me to produce a comprehensive package to address the problem. We expect to make announcements very shortly.

Two weeks ago Justice Leggatt said that Public Interest Lawyers showed

“a serious failure to observe essential ethical standards”

when it claimed that British soldiers were responsible for the death of a child. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is simply the latest example of the hounding of our forces—something we committed in our manifesto to clamp down on—and that it must now be investigated by the regulator?

I agree with my hon. Friend and it is right that Public Interest Lawyers has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Justice Leggatt criticised them for failing to take action when they discovered inconsistencies between their claimants’ accounts and, worse, for ignoring those inconsistencies when they were pointed out to them and for continuing to advance the case. In his words,

“no responsible lawyer…conscious of their duties to their client and the court would have felt able to advance the original allegation.”

Would it not help to deter future legal cases against our soldiers if the House read the remarkable speech made in this House last Thursday by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway), who said, from his authoritative position as a former soldier and journalist, that many untruths by Ministers, civil servants and the military resulted in grave errors in the war in Afghanistan? When can we start a full inquiry into the reasons we went into Helmand?

I know that the hon. Gentleman cares passionately about these issues. I point him to a number of investigations that have gone on, both very lengthy investigations by the Ministry of Defence and investigations by Committees of the House into Afghanistan and, in particular, Helmand in 2006. It is important that we learn the lessons from those inquiries. I hope that he will be able to see from operations today, in particular Op Shader, that we are acting on those lessons learned.