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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Military 'longstop' is deeply flawed, says expert lawyer

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Military 'longstop' is deeply flawed, says expert lawyer

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A specialist military lawyer has attacked MPs’ rejection of peers’ longstop amendment to the Overseas Operations Bill

A specialist military lawyer has attacked MPs’ rejection of peers’ longstop amendment to the Overseas Operations Bill.

The Commons voted against the amendment by the House of Lords to exclude service veterans from the six-year limitation on civil actions against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the bill.

Hilary Meredith, chair of Hilary Meredith solicitors said the longstop gives the MoD “power to manipulate the claims process and deny British troops justice in valid civil claims”.

“It is deeply flawed”, she added, “and will significantly disadvantage those who have served abroad. It is totally unacceptable for the government to deny those who put their lives on the line for our country overseas the same employer liability rights as the UK civilians they defend. It is also a breach of the Armed Forces Covenant. The contradiction here is as clear as day.”

Explaining the civil claims process, Meredith added: “There is no other scenario similar to the unique circumstances of a military claim for injury or death in service. When bringing a military claim, the cards are already stacked in the MoD’s favour.

“The MoD is the employer, the paymaster, the medical provider, the trainer, the investigator and the conclusion maker. It also employs the vast majority of the witnesses while crown immunity makes it exempt from prosecution.

“Anyone bringing a civil claim is reliant on the MoD co-operating while accidents overseas make it even harder to gather evidence. The initial investigation will always start with the service medical records.”

But she said pre-covid, it was taking between eight and 10 months to obtain service medical records from the Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow, records which are not electronic. 

“They’re still maintained and supplied in hard copy”, said Meredith. “I currently have clients who have been waiting over 18 months for their records. “The legal system requires a medical report based on a consultation with the injured service person alongside consideration of their medical records.”

“The process to access to justice cannot commence until the MoD has provided the relevant medical details”, she warned. “By taking away the court’s discretion on limitation periods, the government is betraying troops who have served overseas and meddling unnecessarily with the justice process.”