By: 25 April 2016
Make Ministry of Defence subject to corporate manslaughter charges, says Defence Select Committee report

The Ministry of Defence should be subject to corporate manslaughter charges and lose its crown immunity when there is a blatant disregard for life, according to a groundbreaking report by the Defence Select Committee.

The report, called Beyond Endurance? Military exercise and the duty of care has said that it is wrong for the MoD and the Armed Forces to have exemptions under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 in situations where they have been penalised by Crown Censure for serious failings in hazardous training and selection events.

While the report found no systemic failings in the policies for managing risk during training and selection events, it argues that the MoD has not always got the correct balance between adequate training and reducing risk. This has resulted in life-changing injuries and deaths in training and selection events.

Between 1 January 2000 and 20 February 2016, 135 Armed Forces personnel died whilst on training and exercise.

The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, which is meant to cover all employees, also applies to the armed forces. However, the MoD has been exempt from criminal prosecution for serious breaches of the rules through Crown immunity.

Since January 2000 there have been 11 Crown Censures, the highest penalty that can be issued to the MoD by the Health and Safety Executive.

Chair of the sub-committee, Madeleine Moon MP, said: “In general the Armed Forces take very seriously the risks associated with the way it trains for war fighting. But there have been a small number of serious yet avoidable failings in training safety and risk assessment which need to be addressed. So where a Crown Censure has been issued, it should be possible to prosecute the MoD. 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.”

Hilary Meredith, the CEO at Hilary Meredith Solicitors, who gave evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry, said the report’s conclusion was an acknowledgment of the losses suffered by all the families she had represented over the years.

“I think many members of the armed forces accept that if they are in wartime situation and they are either injured or killed then that’s part and parcel of their employment. But if they are on manoeuvres or training they don’t expect to be injured or killed.”

Meredith, who has long campaigned for the MoD to no longer be exempt from prosecution for serious breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act, said that the government department had hidden behind crown immunity for “too long”.

“I applaud the Select Defence Committee on understanding the seriousness of these issues,” she said.

“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.”

“It is a fact that more men and women die whilst training for war than in war – and this cannot be acceptable on any front. We acknowledge that training has to be realistic but not to the point of death. There is, and always has been a lack of understanding in the military from the top, that systems have to be in place to reduce death and injury whilst training.”