By David Robinson, Military Claims Specialist at Thompsons Solicitors. Injuries to our servicemen and women
Injuries to our servicemen and women are perhaps the greatest challenge to those who argue that we live in a ‘compensation culture’. Their chosen career sees them inevitably facing enormous risks as they undertake duties at home and abroad in service to their country. They know they face paying the ultimate sacrifice but they also daily risk other injuries that can be devastating for their futures and their families. It is the Ministry of Defence as the ultimate employer who has to minimise and mitigate that risk whilst juggling a budget that faces cuts.
On Armed Forces Day this weekend (29 June 2013), I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s eponymous war-time statement – “Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job.”
Increasingly I’m confronted with the reality that the MoD is failing in its duty to provide the right tools to our troops to get the job done and return home safely.
Represented seriously injured military personnel
Working with the Royal British Legion and in a private capacity, I have represented seriously injured military personnel and those with lesser injuries that have had their future plans devastated not as the result of direct combat – which the principle of ‘combat immunity’ would often prevent them from claiming compensation for – but due to faulty equipment or training exercises going awry. Stripping back what actually happened and when often, in my experience, reveals that combat immunity is used by the MoD as a shield to fairly compensating troops whose injuries could actually have been prevented.
Decision to construe the principle of combat immunity narrowly
This month, the Supreme Court has shown its support to our troops through its decision to construe the principle of combat immunity narrowly, and to permit the Courts to assess and review decisions taken away from the heat of battle, decisions which often relate to the procurement and provision of equipment.
Much has been written about the shortage of body armour and helmets on the front line. Five years ago, that was the pressing concern however the UK’s role in Afghanistan has evolved. Yes the issue is still equipment and the quality and nature of it, but as the needs of our troops has evolved so have the gaps.
Peacekeeping and policing forces are increasingly being injured
Peacekeeping and policing forces are increasingly being injured not in live exchanges with enemy troops but by the IEDs their faulty metal detectors fail to pick up or as a result of military vehicles which are unsuitable for the terrain.
I increasingly hear stories – that when they first surfaced caused such a furore - from the service personnel I represent of troops buying their own equipment; basic pieces of kit like boots and torches – in response to poor quality central purchasing by the MoD.
As a country we are rightly proud of our armed forces but it is not acceptable for politicians to trade on their good name to gain votes whilst at the same time setting budgets that inevitably mean that financial concerns are placed ahead of the safety and well-being of those people choosing to serve. The MoD has a duty to ensure that the provisions it sends are fit for purpose and, if they fall short, specialists who know a false combat immunity cover when we see one to hold them to account for the consequences - whatever they may be and wherever they occur.
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