The Times said:"Army told to open up system of justice
Deborah Haynes Defence Editor - Deborah Haynes - The Times
The Times, 3 January, 2013.
The Army should allow an outside authority to resolve complaints of bullying, sexual harrassment and other abuses according to officers, politicians and a military watchdog.
The move, which is opposed by military chiefs, would prise open a centuries-old system of unchecked, internal discipline that has left many soldiers reluctant to speak out. They fear being labelled troublemakers and lack confidence in the Army’s ability to investigate its own people.
One officer who has raised accusations of bullying said that without reform Service personnel who felt they were being ignored might be driven to suicide.
Concerns have also been expressed about the whole military justice system, which was the focus of public anger last month with the botched jailing of the SAS sergeant Danny Nightingale.
Some lawyers and academics say that the Army should no longer have the power to convict soldiers for criminal offences.
Madeleine Moon, a Labour MP and member of the Defence Select Committee, said that it was ludicrous to allow the Army to rule on complaints with impunity. “There is such an impediment in the right to justice,” said Mrs Moon, who has been investigating cases of alleged rape and sexual harassment within the military. “There needs to be a change. The next step is to get a service ombudsman then I would feel that at least we would have some movement.”
Sources within the military and the Ministry of Defence revealed:
• The number of complaints across the Armed Forces last year is expected to hit 550, a 10 per cent increase on 2011.
• Complaints about bullying, harassment and discrimination account for 40 per cent of the total.
• By last September, more than 200 complaints had yet to be resolved more than a year after they were begun, despite pressure to deal with them faster.
Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Mercer, a former military lawyer, waited more than four years for a complaint that he had made to be resolved, by which time his army career was over.
“The reality is that it is very hard to secure any satisfactory resolution through the service complaints system,” said Colonel Mercer, who was the Government’s chief legal adviser during the Iraq war and is now Assistant Curate at a church in Dorset.
“Most people give up the ghost because it goes on for ever and people just think that the odds are stacked against them and many simply can’t face the ordeal.”
He claimed that soldiers were penalised for speaking out. “I know one officer who was repeatedly threatened with disciplinary action for alleging misconduct. It subsequently came to light that his army records had been tampered with and a promotions board deliberately thrown.”
Dr Susan Atkins, the Service Complaints Commissioner, an independent voice who oversees military grievances but has no power to influence their outcome, said that a more powerful ombudsman was required. This would serve as the ultimate authority that resolves internal disputes and reports of abuse instead of leaving the top brass with the final word.
“Servicemen are prepared to put their life on the line and they have every right to expect that when things go wrong they can speak out about it in confidence and it can be resolved quickly. At present that is not happening and they deserve better,” she said.
The Service complaints system, which is supposed to give military personnel an avenue to resolve problems, was set up six years ago in response to a scandal at Deepcut barracks between 1995 and 2002 when four soldiers died in mysterious circumstances amid reports of systematic bullying.
Dr Atkins said that she had raised awareness among military chiefs about the importance of dealing with complaints but that it was only a partial success, with the military still taking too long to resolve a grievance or to disclose internal documents that an individual might want to support their allegations of mistreatment.
The Defence Select Committee has been made aware of several allegations of mistreatment suffered by soldiers, including a female officer who says that she was a victim of sexual harassment and a captain who claims that he was bullied.
Captain Gregg McLeod, whose career was effectively finished after he was found guilty of social misconduct after an internal discipline process that he likened to a kangaroo court, made clear his dissatisfaction in an e-mail sent to a group of MPs last month.
“In March 2011 I fell victim to what evolved to be a procrastinated campaign of bullying, victimisation and harassment. My career has been destroyed by bullies, liars and cowards,” he wrote.
“I am resilient. If, however, a junior soldier had been subjected to my treatment, I believe they may have taken their own life.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said that the Army was committed to treating its soldiers fairly and transparently.
“The Service Complaints Commissioner provides vital independent oversight of the complaints system to ensure it operates as effectively and efficiently as possible,” she said."
Personally, I agree. I've served 12 years and seen and heard many nasty stories. I suspect I'm not the only one?
In the 1880's it was controversial to award COs power to inflict any greater than 7 days imprisonment.
In 2012, COs have the power to routinely impose 28 days imprisonment, and if granted so-called extended powers (i.e. with their boss's permission), they can inflict 90 days imprisonment!
Powers of punishment are governed by Armed Forces Act 2006, Part 6, Chapter 1: Armed Forces Act 2006 and The Armed Forces (Summary Hearing and Activation of Suspended Sentences of Service Detention) Rules 2009: The Armed Forces (Summary Hearing and Activation of Suspended Sentences of Service Detention) Rules 2009
AFA 06, Section 133:
133 Detention: limits on powers
(1) The maximum term of detention that a commanding officer may award under row 1 of the Table in section 132 to an able rate, marine, soldier or airman is—
(a) 90 days if the commanding officer has extended powers for the purposes of this subsection;
(b) otherwise, 28 days.
Also explained in Joint Service Publication 830, The Manual of Service Law, Volume 1, Chapter 13, page 1-13-10 and Annex A (1-13-A-1): https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/27906/Ch13.pdf
Power of Commanding Officer. (Hansard, 20 June 1879)
MR. RYLANDS considered there were strong arguments in favour of an Amendment of this character…. He held in his hand a Memorandum written by a colonel, holding at the present moment that rank in the Army, which said— …it is a very dangerous power to give to any man of that rank; And it went on to remark— In view of the idiots sometimes to be found in the command of regiments, it is a very dangerous power.
MR. A. H. BROWN… the recommendations of the Royal Commission went further, for they proposed to extend the powers of a commanding officer in the case of all offences to a sentence of imprisonment for 21 days. To that recommendation he was entirely opposed. …
MR. RYLANDS …when he considered that this power would be exercised in some cases by men of not altogether sound judgment, and that the more men that were sent to prison the more they injured the efficiency of the Force, he thought they should look with jealousy upon the power of a commanding officer to inflict such a punishment... evidence was given before them with reference to the number of summary punishments inflicted in different regiments, and it was shown that the number varied very much indeed. ...some commanding officers were a great deal more severe than others, and that while numerous punishments were inflicted in some regiments, in others the number of punishments inflicted was very small indeed. That was most important, as showing that in giving commanding officers these summary powers they ought to surround them with sufficient safeguards.
Obvious questions for ARRSE
I have my own opinions, but I'd more be interested to hear what other people think:
Summary Hearings are secret (no public/press, and no reports), internal court proceedings, run by a single man (the CO) who has power of commander, trial judge, prosecutor, jury and sentencing judge. Even in 1879 politicians were afraid that
they were dangerous powers in the hands of a single man.
1. Do you think that the the increase from 7 days imprisonment in 1879 to 90 days imprisonment in 2013 is fair to soldiers, or even necessary? We had a far larger Army in 1879 - why do officers (like me) need those powers now?
2. Regarding the "botched jailing of the SAS sergeant Danny Nightingale" - do you feel confident that whether or not you go to prison depends on whether or not your wife speaks to the Telegraph, and if the Secretary of State fancies writing to the Attorney General - or would you rather trust, professional, civilian courts?
3. "More than 200 complaints have taken more than a year" - do you trust the Service Complaints system?
4. "The Service complaints system, which is supposed to give military personnel an avenue to resolve problems, was set up six years ago in response to a scandal at Deepcut barracks between 1995 and 2002 when four soldiers died in mysterious circumstances amid reports of systematic bullying." Have we honoured the memories of the Deepcut dead, and are confident that if soldiers are mistreated in the British Army today, that it would be properly handled? (Not better handled - that wouldn't be hard, but *properly* handled)
5. How much variation is there in handling of Summary Hearings between different regiments, and between the Army, the RN and the RAF? In theory, everyone should be equal before the law. Is this the lived reality of service personnel? (Why are Summary Hearing results kept secret - we publish Courts Martial and Major AGAI Action results - but not Summary Hearings: what are we hiding?)
6. Any other comments on Courts Martial, Summary Hearing, AGAI 67, Service Complaints and the RMP/ALS?