Soldiers to be given right to sue their officersBy David Bamber
Sunday 27 February 2000
SOLDIERS who believe they have been given the wrong orders will have the right to sue their commanding officers for compensation under new European Union laws being introduced by the Government.
Service personnel will for the first time get the same legal rights as any other citizen, regardless of military discipline, when the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into British law later this year. The only exception will be in time of conflict.
Britain, unlike eight other European countries - Spain, France, Portugal, Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine and Liechtenstein - has not asked for its Armed Forces to be exempt.
Asked this week by Lord Elton, the Conservative peer, if the Government "would defend commanding officers who were sued by junior members of the Forces over orders they had given", Baroness Symons, the defence minister, replied: "We would usually, most often, expect to be able to support the commanding officer. But I cannot say that on every occasion we would always know that the commanding officer had been right."
Last night Julian Brazier, the military expert and Conservative MP for Canterbury, said: "There is no reason why the Government could not have asked for an exemption for the Forces but it has not done that. This will destroy morale and undermine discipline and is typical of the political correctness the Government is foisting on our Armed Forces."
Kier Starmer, a London barrister and an expert on human rights, said: "The Armed Forces must comply with the Convention when it is incorporated in British law. If they fail to do so, any individual - including service personnel - can take proceedings against them. It will certainly open up the Army to challenges, although how far these will succeed will be up to the courts to decide."
The Government has already introduced a revised internal military code to bring the Forces into line with civilians because of the Convention. It gives service personnel greater rights in courts martial and access to independent advice.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "In essence what Kier Starmer is saying is right: service personnel will be able to take action, no one would argue with that."