UK & World News
Armed Forces 'Undermined By Human Rights'
Human rights laws and a spiralling compensation culture are undermining British military operations, according to a think tank report.
Policy Exchange said the Ministry of Defence faced 5,827 claims over the past two years and lawyers cost the cash-strapped ministry £36m a year.
In its report, the think tank claimed: "It may not be long before either a foreign power or sub-state forces might begin to sponsor legal actions as a way of paralysing the armed forces through legal process."
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond admitted he was "concerned" about recent court judgements which could make it "more difficult" to carry out operations.
One of the cases that raised concerns was the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that damages claims could be launched by a group of families of soldiers killed in Iraq against the MoD under legislation covering negligence and human rights.
Lawyers representing relatives said the landmark ruling meant that the MoD owed a duty of care to properly equip servicemen and women who went to war.
Tom Tugendhat, one of the authors of the report and a former military assistant to the chief of the defence staff, said: "The Armed Forces neither are, nor should be, above or exempt from the law. But, imposing civilian norms on the military is deeply misplaced.
"The focus on rights misunderstands the nature of armed forces. As the ultimate guarantors of a nation's liberty they have agreed, voluntarily, to surrender or limit many of their own rights. Without this the nation would be undefended."
Mr Hammond welcomed the report, saying: "I remain concerned about the challenge to combat immunity arising from recent court judgments.
"These could make it more difficult for our troops to carry out operations in the future, and they potentially throw open a wide range of military decisions to the uncertainty of litigation.
"It cannot be right that troops on operations have to put the European Convention on Human Rights ahead of what is operationally vital to protect our national security."
But Martyn Day from law firm Leigh Day, which has fought many high-profile cases against the MoD, said: "This is an entirely biased report which seems to have been written with the full co-operation of the MoD.
"We were not consulted and neither were our clients. Had we been, we believe this report would have been far more accurate.
"The report states that the customs and practices of Britain's armed forces are now under threat from the law. We would argue that it is the breaking of these laws which is the greatest threat to those who 'risk all for their country'.
"This includes not training or equipping soldiers adequately before putting service personnel into a combat zone."