Claire Perry writes in the Salisbury Journal
Claire Perry, the Conservative MP for Devizes in Wiltshire, said in her piece in the Salisbury Journal that:
[at the recent Tory party conference] … there were other important announcements to celebrate including the news that the government will put an end to the vexatious and damaging legal claims against members of the Armed Forces that arise from applying European Court of Human Rights judgements in the battlefield.
It is scandalous that highly trained and professional soldiers have been subjected to vexatious legal claims second-guessing their decision-making and that since 2004, the MoD has spent over £100 million on Iraq-related investigations, inquiries and compensation – money that should be spent on our troops not lawyers. Salisbury Journal 27 October 2016
The problem with Claire Perry’s piece – largely copied from the statement by the Defence Minister at the conference – is that it is highly selective and largely untrue. The picture painted is of our soldiers, operating in difficult and extremely dangerous environments, being pursued by lawyers, sorry ‘vexatious lawyers’, on the make. The reality is quite different.
Firstly, it is part of a consistent and long running campaign by the right-wing media and tabloids against the Human rights Act and the European Court. They do not like it because it provides protections for ordinary citizens and in particular, against the invasion of privacy by those self-same papers. So at a party conference, appealing to that part of the media is only to be expected.
But more specifically, to take one element the statement: ‘claims against members of the armed forces …’ gives the impression that the claims are only about the soldiers themselves. Many of the claims are against the MoD for not taking sufficient or reasonable care of their men. So one claim for example was on behalf of a soldier who died of heatstroke serving in 50 degrees of heat in Iraq. There is also the whole business of Deepcut and the soldiers who died there. Others involve the Army sending men off in insufficiently protected land rovers.
The phrase ‘applying European Court of Human Rights judgements in the battlefield’ is doubly disingenuous. Firstly, it is the application of the Human Rights Act which is causing the problem. Adding the ECHR is just to appeal to those who do not like Europe and trying to shift the blame to Strasbourg who often have little if anything to do with it. ‘Battlefield’ is also slipped in to create the impression of brave soldiers being pursued by lawyers (keep forgetting – vexatious lawyers) with outrageous claims.
What many of the claims are about is how prisoners are treated once they are taken captive, not on the battlefield. One such claim was a man thrown into a canal in Baghdad and left to drown. Many others relate to beatings and other mistreatment of prisoners. If the courts have investigated claims and the MoD has been forced to pay compensation it argues that something is adrift.
Perhaps Claire Perry should ask herself why do we go to war in the first place? Part of the answer is to promote our values. We want to promote democracy and the rule of law. We become involved in part to try and instill those values. If our soldiers – not on the battlefield but back at base – are mistreating prisoners then those are not our values. Although there was a lot of nonsense about weapons of mass destruction, one reason we went into Iraq was because Sadam Hussein treated his people abominably. The results of bad treatment in places like Syria are visible to us every day with the refugee crisis.
It is a great pity that nonsense like this is both written and then published without challenge.