THE government was criticised yesterday for its plan to abolish the right of troops and their families to sue the Ministry of Defence (MoD) through the courts.
Under the proposals, compensation claims relating to avoidable deaths and injuries — including MoD failure to provide safe and adequate equipment — would only be dealt with internally.
If the rule was in place now, they would prevent the family of Private Phillip Hewett, who was killed in a Snatch Land Rover in Iraq in July 2005, from taking legal action — which the Supreme Court has now ruled that they can do.
Mr Hewett died when an improvised explosive device blew up under his vehicle.
Snatch Land Rovers were notoriously poorly protected from such devices, but they were nonetheless employed continuously and extensively in Iraq.
At least 37 British soldiers died in Iraq and Afghanistan while travelling in such vehicles. Last year’s Chilcot Inquiry was heavily critical of MoD delays in replacing them.
The solicitor who represented Mr Hewett’s family said there was a “real risk” that British troops would be put in greater danger under the plans. Jocelyn Cockburn said the proposals would shield the MoD from scrutiny in the courts.
“If plans to extend ‘combat immunity’ and remove human rights protections succeed, as the government’s manifesto intends, then, in future, cases like Snatch Land Rover would never be brought,” Ms Cockburn said.
“The consequence of this would be to remove the MoD from scrutiny by the courts about its planning and preparation for combat, including in relation to providing safe equipment for our troops.
“As such, there is a real risk that, by these changes, our servicemen and women will become less safe.”
The MoD proposals would extend the immunity to include all deaths and injuries in combat, including those involving an MoD failure to provide adequate equipment.