Human rights

UK public backs accountability for the military

The public overwhelmingly backs the British military being held to the same or higher legal standards as the average citizen, according to a new opinion poll conducted by the Law Society of England and Wales, timed to coincide with the return of the Overseas Operations Bill to the House of Commons.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said:

“The Ministry of Defence may hope to make it harder to prosecute members of the armed forces for serious offences – such as torture – but this move is not backed by public opinion. 96% of people said the UK courts should hold people in the military either to the same (71%) or a higher standard (25%) as the average citizen.

“Our armed forces are known across the world for their courage and discipline. They depend on clear rules of engagement and, during armed conflict, are governed by international humanitarian and human rights law, which establishes limits to permissible behaviour in conflict.

“The UK is obliged by international law to investigate and prosecute well-evidenced serious offences committed during overseas operations. No other serious crime, let alone crimes against humanity or torture, has a limitation period and no exception should be introduced.

"If the UK is seen to set itself outside internationally agreed standards, it risks fuelling a culture of impunity, undermining its global standing, its ability to hold other states to account and longstanding international cooperation practices.

“The public clearly agree. 94% of people said they think it is important the UK is seen as a country which upholds the law. That means everyone, including our armed forces, should be held equally accountable within our legal framework.

“UK citizens are rightly proud that we are a country that upholds and respects the rule of law on and off the battlefield – let’s make sure that continues.

“The justice system works in the national interest and does not encroach on legitimate military action. Weakening Ministry of Defence (MoD) legal and public accountability would at a stroke strip British Armed Forces of their rights, undermine their international reputation and, ultimately, could put them at greater risk."

On proposals to put a time limit on compensation claims against the MoD, I. Stephanie Boyce said:

“The proposed time limit could prevent Armed Forces personnel, other MoD employees and civilians getting compensation for injuries and medical conditions caused by military activities. We believe this would be a gross injustice both to those who have dedicated their lives to their country and to innocent victims.

“Only the MoD stands to gain from this proposed limit on compensation claims, as it would avoid having to pay court-awarded damages and costs and would also be less likely to learn from past mistakes and improve practices.”

Notes to editors

* Law Society survey, sample size: 1500 adults in UK (16+)

View our briefing on the Overseas Operations Bill

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Press office contact: Harriet Beaumont | 0208 049 3854 (out of hours 0203 189 1880)

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