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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

MoD should be prosecuted for training deaths

MoD should be prosecuted for training deaths


The ministry has hid behind Crown immunity for too long, says solicitor

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) should be charged with corporate manslaughter and lose its Crown immunity when there is a blatant disregard for life, MPs have declared.

The House of Commons Defence Committee report, Beyond Endurance? Military exercise and the duty of care, found that the MoD should not be exempt from prosecution for serious failings in hazardous training and selection events.

An exemption is currently provided for under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, while the MoD can also escape criminal punishment from legislation, such as the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, through Crown immunity privilege.

Crown Censures are the highest penalty that can be issued to the MoD by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Since January 2000 there have been 11 issued against the ministry.

Chair of the parliamentary sub-committee, Madeleine Moon MP, said there had been a small number of serious, yet avoidable, failings in training safety and risk assessment which needed to be addressed.

'Where a Crown Censure has been issued, it should be possible to prosecute the MoD' she said. 'The lives of serving personnel are worth no less than those of civilians and those responsible for their deaths must be equally liable under the law.'

Moon also stressed the need for greater accountability: 'While it is important that the MoD and the armed services are accountable for all accidents and fatalities it is equally important that they are publicly seen to be so.

'The families and friends of those who have died whilst on training and selection events need to have confidence that that lessons have been learned for the future.'

Hilary Meredith, CEO at Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd, who gave evidence at the parliamentary inquiry, applauded the committee's understanding of issues.

'Making its recommendation that the MoD should be subject to corporate prosecution when there is a reckless disregard for life is a major leap forward in recognising that, like everyone else in modern society, when mistakes happen the buck should stop at the top,' she said.

Between 1 January 2000 and 20 February 2016, 135 armed forces personnel have died while on training and exercise.

In July 2013, three soldiers died and ten others suffered heat illness after taking part in a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons on one of the hottest days of the year.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found a failure to plan, assess, and manage risks associated with climatic illness during the training had caused the deaths of Lance Corporal Edward Maher, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, and Corporal James Dunsby.

The HSE acknowledged the MoD would have faced prosecution for the failings identified but for Crown immunity. Meredith described the incident as 'atrocious' and said the ministry had hid behind the doctrine for too long.

'The MoD should hold its head in shame and accept responsibility. It is far too easy to blame the individual on the ground. The MoD can no longer hide behind Crown immunity, painful lessons will be learnt. Twenty-seven years on and at last there will be change,' she said.

'We are not talking about unfortunate accidents here - we are talking about a blatant disregard for life. Only this week we heard of another fatality on a firing range due to the lack of safety officers on the ground.

'For all the families who I have represented over the years and have lost loved ones in training accidents this is an acknowledgment of their losses and at last a recommendation for corporate responsibility to apply to the MoD.'

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