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Crucial outcome awaited for injured soldiers

Thousands of military injury cases involving soldiers injured as a result of using inappropriate military equipment may hinge on a Court of Appeal hearing that began on Monday 25 June as reported in The Times.

The cases of Allbutt and others v MoD, and Smith and other v MoD are back before the Court of Appeal. The Allbutt group of cases relate to a so-called “friendly fire” incident in Iraq in 2003 in which personnel in a tank were killed or seriously injured when inadvertently fired on by one of their own tanks. The Smith group of cases concern the use of “snatch land-rovers” in combat situations and their unsuitability due to the fact that they were not properly protected from roadside IED’s.

Stephen Baker, Director and Head of Military Injuries at Harris Fowler, as quoted in The Times 25/06/2012, sets out his thoughts on the cases –

“These cases are of fundamental importance and will affect many hundreds, if not thousands, of other Service men and women who have been injured in a wide variety of situations where they have been provided with inadequate equipment or training. Should the MoD lose its appeal it is likely it will quickly face a raft of similar cases. Harris Fowler has a number of cases that are simply on hold awaiting the court’s ruling and there are bound to be many other solicitors in the same situation.”

The cases hinge on the principle of combat immunity as explained –

“Properly understood, the principle of combat immunity should reasonably be interpreted as meaning that ‘heat of the moment’ decisions made on the battlefield should not be second-guessed in a courtroom with the benefit of hindsight. However, the Ministry of Defence has attempted to use this doctrine to hide from decisions which were made well before and away from any combat situation. There have been situations where members of our Armed Forces have been sent into combat situations with equipment which was clearly dangerous and inadequate as a result of inadequate funding. While we are aware that there are constraints on public finance there must not be a situation where members of our Armed Forces are sent into battle in full knowledge that they are inadequately equipped to the point where that equipment is itself the source of danger to them. Their jobs are dangerous enough without being asked to effectively fight it with one hand tied behind their backs.”

The military covenant should ensure troops are safeguarded –

“There is a covenant to support members of the Armed Forces and ensure that they are adequately safeguarded and compensated for risking their lives in obedience to orders given by the Government for the benefit of us all.

“When introducing the military covenant the Ministry of Defence itself stated ‘At the very least, British soldiers should always expect the nation and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals, and to sustain and reward them and their families’. It is therefore regrettable that the Ministry of Defence has tried to widen the scope of combat immunity to cover situations which are far wider than those which should properly be covered by the doctrine and to provide a windfall defence where inadequate decisions have been made not on the battlefield, but well in advance of this by politicians who have not considered the human cost of the resourcing decisions they have made.

“Ultimately those decisions result in huge personal cost to our service men and women and ultimately also as a cost to the Government and ourselves as a nation.”

The outcomes of the cases are keenly awaited in hope that they will be in support of the injured troops who were exposed to such unnecessary risks.

If you or a family member have been affected by a military injury and would like to discuss claiming please contact Stephen Baker on 0800 213 214 or at Stephen.Baker@harrisfowler.co.uk

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