Thursday, January 28, 2016

Investigating allegations against British Soldiers

Minister for the Armed Forces Penny Mordaunt spoke yesterday at a Westminster Hall debate about IHAT, the Iraq historic allegations team, which has been created to ensure that allegations against British Service personnel are properly investigated in a way which is fair and just to both sides. You can read the speech in full at

https://modmedia.blog.gov.uk/2016/01/27/westminster-hall-debate-on-the-iraq-historic-allegations-team/

Here are some extracts

"I would also thank all Honourable members who have spoken in support of our Armed Forces.
 
We send them dressed in body armour, into harms way, to defend our freedom, and our national interest. It is not just their courage and capability that makes them the best, it is their values and the high standards we hold them to: values of self-discipline and self-sacrifice.
 
Much of what they do in both war and peace is to uphold the rule of law, including international humanitarian law, such as the well-known and well-understood Geneva Conventions.
 
As a nation we have chosen to invest in preserving and promoting these vital rules in armed conflict, ensuring they are reflected in all we do, and using our considerable reach to instil them in Armed Forces across the globe. And it is right we meet the obligations on us to investigate credible allegations of serious criminality or war crimes.
 
How ironic it is then that those brave men and women who do so much to protect and promote human rights and the laws that enshrine them, stand accused of wishing to exempt themselves from such obligations."

"I wish to explain why protecting our Armed Forces from litigation motivated by malice and money is not just compatible with upholding human rights and the pursuit of justice - but that Human rights and justice depend upon it.
 
This is not about holding our Armed Forces “above the law”- as Leigh Day have suggested, but rather that we wish to uphold the primacy of international humanitarian law that helps keep our Armed Forces safe and gives them the freedom to act in accordance with those laws and protect human rights. The ability to take prisoners, for example, is a well understood good. Not to be able to do so would have very grave consequences indeed, for both sides of a conflict.
 
Any action which undermines or deviates from such rules is detrimental to our operational ability, to our own Armed Forces' safety, and we should make no apology for investigating and holding to account our own Armed Forces for such actions. It is in our national interest to do so, as well as in the interest of the people who serve in our Armed Forces."

"The IHAT was set up in 2010 to ensure that credible allegations are properly investigated. It ensures that the International Criminal Court is not required to investigate or prosecute so that British service personnel do not end up in the Hague. It investigates allegations brought to it. It is independent, but funded by the MOD and we have a responsibility to ensure it is both fit for purpose and value for money.

IHAT is methodically working through all the cases lodged with it - it triages them. Many hundreds of cases have been discounted following an initial assessment. Others are being dismissed after a fuller investigation, gathering information and evidence which will put to bed those allegations once and for all. A minority of cases will result in a full investigation, and a smaller number still will be referred to the Service prosecutor.
 
From the 1,558 cases it has been asked to look at I anticipate only a handful may result in prosecution. As was announced at the weekend of the 58 unlawful killing cases concluded so far none have resulted in a prosecution.
 
I want to give Honourable members an insight into some of those cases. This will demonstrate the importance of what IHAT does and some of the practices by a minority of law firms that are a concern to both IHAT and the MOD.

Case number 377: It was alleged that a passenger in a car was shot by a “hysterical” British solider in a tank. The IHAT investigation ascertained that PIL has submitted this allegation in October 2014, despite the Danish Armed forces accepting liability for this incident and paying compensation in August of 2003.

Case number 82: Was the investigation into the death of a man who died in a UK controlled detention facility. The evidence gathered by IHAT showed that he had previously been diagnosed with a heart condition, and this had been picked up from a medical he had had at the detention facility. He was given appropriate medication. He later suffered a suspected heart attack and died while UK forces were taking him to hospital.

Case number 123: It was alleged that a 13-year-old girl had been killed when she picked up part of a UK cluster bomb that had failed to detonate. The IHAT investigation established that a 13-year-old boy had been killed, but was unable to ascertain whether Iraqi or UK munitions were responsible. PIL challenged the MOD's decision not to refer the case to Sir George Newman and the Iraq Fatalities Investigation. Shortly before the hearing PIL disclosed a witness statement the boy's father made before the IHAT investigation in which he said that he had been killed whilst in the vicinity of an Iraqi mobile missile launcher preparing to fire missiles into Kuwait, which was destroyed by a coalition forces helicopter.

There are many other cases I could mention which concluded after thorough investigation that UK service personnel had acted in self-defence, in the defence of others, and lawfully.
 
IHAT enables us to meet our obligations to investigate serious wrong doing and its work is exonerating those wrongly accused, and rejecting bogus allegations. Its investigators - a mix of service personnel, police officers and legal experts - are doing a public service.
 
I want to pay tribute to them. They feel their responsibilities keenly. These investigators did not set up IHAT; this was done by a previous Government. And it was done so for sound legal and policy reasons. There should be a domestic system of accountability, without one there would be an international one."

"The Al-Sweady case, which has exonerated our Armed Forces, and resulted in Leigh Day being referred to the Solicitors disciplinary tribunal, cost the MOD and the British taxpayer £31 Million. That is £31 million I would argue they would rather see spent on equipment and support for our Armed Forces.
 
The status quo is financially unsustainable and morally unjustifiable.
 
To put this right falls to us in this place, but we must all be resolved to do so. This issue and the solutions we will bring forward are complex. But the objective is simple: we must protect human rights and we must protect those who defend them - our Armed Forces."

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