The Times - MPs call for new ombudsman to stop Armed Forces abuse


MPs call for new ombudsman to stop Armed Forces abuse

Deborah Haynes Defence Editor, The Times, 26 Feb 13

The Armed Forces have been urged to allow complaints of sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of abuse to be resolved by an outside authority for the first time.

An influential committee of MPs are concerned because servicemen and women who suffered abuse within the military decided against submitting complaints as they had no faith in the chain of command to deal with it. Others did not pursue grievances because they felt the Service Complaints Commissioner, the independent civilian charged with overseeing how complaints are handled, lacked power to act when things went wrong. The House of Commons Defence Committee also expressed alarm that a number of soldiers, sailors and airmen with grievances related to possible redundancy were deterred from making a complaint for fear of losing their job.

“There are too many reports of Service personnel reluctant to raise genuine complaints and grievances,” the MPs said in a report. “We are also concerned that complaints are not being raised when they implicate individuals higher within the chain of command.” They continued: “There are still too many instances of delay, inefficiency and lack of resources. These must be dealt with to ensure confidence in the system and commissioner.”

The comments came after The Times revealed major problems with the military’s ability to deal with complaints by Service personnel as well as concerns about the internal system of justice used by the Armed Forces, which is regarded by some as unjust. Susan Atkins, Service Complaints Commissioner, has repeatedly called for an independent Armed Forces ombudsman with the power to resolve cases on appeal instead of allowing them simply to go up the chain of command for resolution, which can take years and means the ultimate authority is the top-level command.

The Defence Committee threw its weight behind Dr Atkins, suggesting her role be beefed up from independent overseer without power to intervene when a complaint is mishandled. “The Government should change the role of the commissioner to one of an Armed Forces ombudsman,” it said. “Our servicemen and servicewomen deserve a complaints system as good as it can be. Not to provide this would be a failure of the nation’s duty to them.”

The Service Complaints Commissioner's website can be found at:

This story links to this thread, too:

My personal view, as a serving Regular Army Major (check my posting history back over the past decade, for verification), is as follows:

The Army currently suffers from a lack of regulatory oversight, of an independent and impartial third-party organisation to enforce checks and balances, which can insist upon fair and lawful behaviour, and with the power and resources to investigate misconduct, make determinations, and impose financial penalties (the only penalties which truly have the power to induce better behaviour). The current system, whereby the Army chain of command purports to investigate itself for misconduct, not only fails those who do report complaints and seek help, but even more egregiously, ensures that others suffering mistreatment realise that they too have no effective redress, and must suffer in silence.

Service personnel risk their lives for their country: deviations from civilian standards ought only to be those necessary and proportionate in a democratic society. In the British Army, the coin of the realm is power, manifested as rank. Rank can and does shield its holders from the consequences of misconduct. The Army is willing to cover-up mistakes, bully personnel, victimise those who complain, and harass those who are perceived to be ‘rocking the boat', in order to protect the power and prestige of the chain of command.

The Army has struggled with bullying for over 25 years: while it has certain purported, legitimate ‘official values', such as integrity and lawfulness, it has other, deep-seated and atavistic ‘traditional values' such as hierarchy, rank, power and prestige – even in the face of mistakes and mistreatment. When the two sets of values clash, this ‘values hierarchy' often results in ‘official values' being overridden by ‘traditional values', at victims' expense, and tragic cost.

Service personnel have no access to employment tribunals for unfair dismissal, and no right to a formally constituted independent professional association to safeguard their interests. Fear of reprisals and an “atmosphere of intimidation” mean that many victims will not come forward to complain or give evidence against their tormentors. Official figures on bullying are only the “tip of the iceberg” of the problem. The MOD has consistently persuaded ministers that avoiding external oversight is essential. An ombudsman was specifically recommended as far back at 1987, by Jack Ashley MP: ‘I propose an ombudsman not as a panacea—there is none available—but as the best and most important step that can be taken in the present circumstances.' (

Many senior Army officers confuse leadership with ritualised and oppressive display of status, authority and power and the maintenance of anachronistic standards of behaviour. The Army is damagingly out of step and time with wider social trends. Senior Army personnel are failing to perceive the need for change in response to wider social shifts. …But the problem goes deeper than this. The military hierarchy as it is presently constituted is largely incapable of effecting a change in a culture that they themselves embody. Senior Army officers are classic victims of groupthink, having a ‘an unquestioned belief in the group's inherent morality, thus enabling members to overlook the ethical consequences of their decisions.' The Army has neither the inclination, nor the ability, to make the service complaints system a success without external intervention: the SCC must be fully empowered as an ombudsman.

The Army has deflected calls for both external scrutiny, and the safeguards to which other bodies are subjected. The Roman poet Juvenal cautioned, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?', literally translated as "Who will guard the guards themselves?". In the Army's case, apparently no one. For perpetrators who outrank their victims, the benefits of misconduct, for example, bullying, victimisation and harassment, outweigh the risks and consequences of being caught or held to account.

Ombudsman institutions with powers to oversee the Armed Forces have been established in at least 37 states. The UK is an anomaly for the almost total lack of powers vested in the SCC. British service personnel are among the most vulnerable to mistreatment by their own employers of any western military. The Ombudsman for the Defence Forces in Ireland is an example of best practice. Any Ombudsman's lack of powers to enforce its findings will make it ''a last resort'' for people with grievances. The Army often believes, at an atavistic level, that it is above the law. This attitude is infused throughout the organisation, from senior officers to those who, following the killing of Baha Musa, engaged in "…a more or less obvious closing of ranks.” The former begets the latter. The MOD has a 25-year history of rejecting empowered oversight. In the last ten years the MOD has had seven secretaries of state who presumably have little time to master the minutiae of personnel policies, amidst a tsunami of other priorities, before they are replaced.

The risks of being overly deferential to rank should be heeded, and tempered by a robust and independent ombudsman system staffed, funded, and capable of both investigating Army misconduct, and imposing penalties upon the MOD when they fail. The lessons of Deepcut, and the recommendations of Sir Nicholas Blake QC's Deepcut Review, have been ignored by the MOD.

60% of soldiers leave the Army in their first six years of service – only 3% of officers stay in until retirement. The MOD, however, places the wellbeing of the former in to the hands of the latter. While this is the inevitable consequence of a hierarchical system, it does not encourage healthy debate and does not provide to parliament a representative cross-section of views regarding the merits of an empowered SCC.

The Service Complaints Commissioner must be imbued with the powers of an independent, impartial and empowered Armed Forces ombudsman – including the ability to impose financial penalties. The Army's raison d'être is the application of lethal force on the nation's behalf: this justifies a margin of appreciation from civilian society, but not the absolute and wholesale cleaving of employee protections.

So what, what can you do about it? Nothing? What difference can one person make? Actually, if you speak out, then working together, we can make an immense difference:

My personal opinion is that it is deeply unhealthy to have a conspiracy of silence that lets senior officers get away with treatment like that experienced by Prince Harry's flying instructor, documented by Channel 4 News here:

I can recount a litany of abuse (I use the word carefully) that the Army has got away with because of attitudes that encourage cover-ups and frightened people in to silence. For example, one of my friends was raped by her RSM in UOTC some years ago, and she was too terrified to report it until it was too late - because of the Army's culture of not speaking out. I am also aware of other cases where service personnel have not reported mistreatment because the perpetrators were a higher rank than them. Personally, I have never been the subject of disciplinary action, AGAI action, nor have I ever made a service complaint about my own treatment. I am however increasingly aware of many people who have been treated very badly. I don't intend to recite their cases here, suffice to say that it is galling to have a 40-year old Warrant Officer on the phone choking back tears because his wife has broken down under the pressure and desperately wants him to drop his complaint, because the Army have been blocking it, destroying evidence and lying with impunity. I know of another WO1(RSM) whose career and marriage was destroyed by the Army's mistreatment, to the horror of the RAF Legal Services officers (Sqn Ldr/Wg Cdr) who were advising him - but were powerless themselves to intervene. I know of another very recent case where someone was driven by the pressure of the Army's treatment to the point where she had a miscarriage, lost their baby, and attempted suicide - before the Army grudgingly conceded that they got it wrong after all. If you doubt any of this, feel free to message me for information. I am very busy with a variety of G1 tasks at the moment, and do not have time to contribute to ARRSE, I'm afraid.

If you have no criticism of the Service Complaints system, good for you. Well done. Feel free to pass on this thread and browse elsewhere on ARRSE. Almost by definition, those able to speak out about Service Complaints will only be those who have been driven to use the system. Please don't suggest that the only people to criticise a system must be those who have done something wrong: you make yourself sound like the racists of the 1980's who insisted their was no racism in the Army, the misogynists of the early 1990's who fought to sack pregnant service women, and the homophobes of the late 1990's who interrogated, persecuted and terminated the careers of gay personnel. (We could also talk about unlawful courts martial systems that were changed only after many improper convictions, or the manifold examples of failure of duty of care endemic in Deepcut and the surrounding inquiries.) If you're not familiar with the above, send me a PM with your email address, and I'll email you some background info. My point is that there are many excellent aspects of the Army, but its treatment of junior personnel (in which I include non-commissioned ranks up to junior officers) is often not one of those excellent aspects. The Army must evolve, and we all have a part to play in that.

Now, to be clear: if you are still serving, you can only speak out anonymously: to do otherwise is to lay yourself open to further victimisation by PS2(A). In my view, however, I am absolutely clear: speaking out to report people for mistreatment is entirely proper - we should not have a culture of "institutional self-defence that prevents honest acknowledgement of failure" (Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, a week ago:

The Army does have a culture of institutional self-defence that prevents honest acknowledgement of failure at the moment, and it is not healthy. If you wish to speak to the press, you are adults and you should be treated as such (a novelty for the Army, I know...). Yes, on your head be it: only speak to people who you can trust, and ask them to keep your information anonymous if you need to (i.e. if you're still serving). There appear to be two journalists covering these stories:

Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor at The Times - -
Kris Jepson, Defence journalist at Channel 4 News - -

In parliament, Madeleine Moon MP is also fighting for a fair Service Complaints system, and fair treatment of service personal. You have a legal right to contact your MP, and as Madeleine Moon is on the Defence Select Committee, you also have a legal right to contact her (protected by parliamentary privilege). She is contactable at or via her Westminster researcher, Jenny Humpreys,

Both journalists are in contact with the next of kin of various victims of Army mistreatment (in some cases the grieving next of kin, as the individuals in question were driven to take their own life). There is nothing wrong with this, so Army HQ can do nothing. Deborah Haynes and Kris Jepson have done some excellent work to highlight the mistreatment of service personnel - if it wasn't for their work, for example, Bale Baleiwai and his family (wrongly accused and convicted at Summary Hearing, and cleared almost two years later), would have been deported: (thanks to Channel 4 raising his profile, Bale was assisted with securing a court martial almost two years after his summary hearing, and was acquitted).

To be clear therefore:

1. My personal opinion: people have right, some would say an obligation, to speak out and report mistreatment.

2. Fact: if you are serving military, you should only speak out anonymously.

3. Fact: even if you are serving military, your relatives are perfectly at liberty to speak out on your behalf, and the Army can do nothing, as the MOD found at its expense in Danny Nightingale's case:

How the Ministry of Defence tried to prevent publication of Danny Nightingale's story, Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph, 2 Dec 12:

‘The MoD...contacted Sgt Nightingale while he was in Colchester, ordering him to call his wife immediately and tell her not to co-operate with the press...Mrs Nightingale suspected that something was wrong and immediately phoned her lawyer saying that she believed he was making the call under duress...the D-Notice Committee...told me that naming Sgt Nightingale would breach the D-Notice contract...I explained that my view, and that of The Sunday Telegraph was that D-Notices should only be in used in matters of national security and not to stop embarrassing stories being published...just hours before The Sunday Telegraph was due to be published, I received an email from the MoD which claimed that the SAS had spoken to Sgt Nightingale and he was “horrified” at the thought of being named and his case being publicised....the claims contained in the email, of course, were nonsense, a fact which the MoD now accepts. Eighteen days later Sgt Nightingale was freed from military detention.'

Any questions, feel free to PM me, guys. I regret that I will not be checking this thread as I'm busy at work.

Update, added 13 Mar 13:

Call for ombudsman as army ‘kangaroo courts’ condemned

Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor, The Times, 13 Mar 13.

An army officer has attacked the military’s method of administering justice, which he says is ruining soldiers’ lives.

Major Ross McLeod has sent a 200-page study of the military justice system to politicians, lawyers and relatives to raise awareness about what he regards as the Ministry of Defence’s failure to respect the rule of law.
Issues raised in his report include:

• Allegations of soldiers’ careers destroyed by an internal justice system he likens to a “kangaroo court”;

• Claims that the military is failing to resolve allegations of bullying;

• Allegations that victims of abuse fear speaking out because they have lost faith in the chain of command;

• Calls for an overhaul of the Army’s internal sanctions regime to give all soldiers access to an employment tribunal;

• Calls for an Armed Forces Ombudsman to intervene when victims of alleged bullying, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse seek help.

“The Army has a dishonourable history of decades of misleading ministers down moral and legal black holes, from the sacking of pregnant servicewomen to the exclusion of homosexuals,” Major McLeod wrote in a letter.

“It is entirely proper that those of us who are in a position to articulate potential problems do so,” he added. “Army HQ may not appreciate exposure, but they must play the ball not the man.”

Unlike civilian employees, a soldier cannot challenge a decision against him or her at an employment tribunal unless the case is about race, gender or sexual discrimination.

Major McLeod’s report argues for all soldiers to be given access to an employment tribunal to end the over-arching power of commanding officers.
“Proceedings under the Army’s internal sanctions regime . . . are kangaroo courts: biased and partisan tribunals, bounding inexorably towards predetermined conclusions,” he wrote.

After a series of reports in The Times on the issue, Labour has pledged to create an armed forces ombudsman if it forms the next government. Jim Murphy, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said it was vital to create a system of strong independent oversight of complaints by service personnel.

Major McLeod said that he formed his opinions during a protracted fight for his younger brother, Captain Gregg McLeod, who was disciplined after being found guilty last year of social misconduct — a charge he denies.

He called for a “root and branch” overhaul of the most serious sanctions regime — known as AGAI 67 — applied when a soldier is deemed to have breached the Service Test, which embodies the Army’s standards.

An MoD spokeswoman said: “The Administrative Action AGAI 67 system is an administrative rather than disciplinary process whereby action is taken against those whose standards of behaviour have fallen below that expected of serving personnel. Following the outcome, personnel can request a review of the action and the sanction awarded against them.”

The Times have published the full report on their website, here: The Times - Call for ombudsman as army ‘kangaroo courts’ condemned - but it can also be downloaded below:

The files published by The Times:

Overview - Maj R A McLeod R SIGNALS LLB MA.pdf

Part 1 - The need for an empowered Armed Forces Ombudsman.pdf

Part 2 - Threats to Service Personnel - and opportunities for mitigation.pdf


The full report from the Defence Committee is here: House of Commons - The work of the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces - Defence Committee

PDF version:

The write evidence submitted to the Defence Committee is here: House of Commons - Defence Committee: Written Evidence: Contents

PDF version:

Here is a summary of the actual report from the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, with a link to the full report above:

From: Defence Committee <>
Date: 25 February 2013 09:10
Subject: Defence Committee: Service Complaints Commissioner
To: Defence Committee <>

Dear all,

I attach embargoed copies of the Committee&#8217;s Report on The work of the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces (Eighth Report of Session 2012-13, HC 720) and the accompanying press release. Please note that both are strictly embargoed until 00.01 am on Tuesday 26 February 2013.

Thank you for the evidence you submitted to the Committee&#8217;s inquiry.


Ian Thomson
Inquiry Manager
Defence Committee
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Defence Committee - Select Committee Announcement

25 February 2013 - For Immediate Release:



In a report published today, Tuesday 26 February 2013, the House of Commons Defence Committee says the Government should change the role of the Service Complaints Commissioner to one of an Armed Forces Ombudsman, holding the Services to account for the proper administration of their complaints processes and the delivery of justice, and identifying possible improvements to the system. The existing Commissioner has regularly reported that the current Service complaints system is not efficient, effective or fair and needs simplification and redesign. The Committee supports the changes to the role of the Commissioner that have been agreed with the MoD, but is nonetheless disappointed that the MoD and the Services continue to be opposed to changing the role to that of an Armed Forces Ombudsman. It also says it is essential that the Commissioner and Service complaints secretariats are sufficiently resourced to provide an effective and efficient complaints system that inspires confidence, and that current resources are used in the most efficient manner.

The Committee was concerned and disappointed to hear that Service personnel do not always have confidence to pursue a potential complaint through the chain of command under the existing system. While some Service personnel may pursue the matter through the Commissioner, the Committee is worried that some may decide not to pursue their grievance at all. It says the MoD and Service Chiefs should commission research into the reasons for the lack of confidence in the chain of command. The MoD should also review the systems in place for monitoring the performance of commanding officers in respect of complaints. The Commissioner and others report that fears of redundancy among Service personnel appear to be deterring them from making Service complaints: the Committee says it is unacceptable that Service personnel should fear the consequences of making a complaint on any matter. The MoD and the Commissioner should urgently investigate this matter and report their findings to the Committee.

The number of contacts that the Commissioner receives about bullying, harassment, improper behaviour and victimisation has continued to increase. Although this may indicate an increasing confidence in reporting such matters, it also suggests continuing problems in these areas. The Committee is concerned about the continuing gap between anonymous reporting of incidents and the actual numbers of complaints and says further action is required to address this disparity. The number of sexual harassment and other sexual offences allegations made to the Commissioner remains low despite evidence suggesting there may be a much higher incidence of such offences. The Committee says the MoD should instigate new research into the level of sexual offences in the Armed Forces and the actions required to tackle it and encourage possible victims to report such allegations.

Chair of the Committee Rt Hon James Arbuthnnot MP said: &#8220;The Service complaints system is an important part of ensuring that the duty of care that the nation owes to its Service personnel is carried out effectively. We acknowledge the progress made in delivering a fair, just and efficient Service complaints system but there is a long way to go. There are too many reports of Service personnel being reluctant to raise genuine complaints and grievances. We are also concerned that complaints are not being raised when they implicate individuals above the complainant within the chain of command.

&#8220;This is a time of great changes in the Defence arena and many of these changes may lead to an increase in the number of Service complaints. There are still too many instances of delay and inefficiency in part caused by a lack of resources. This must be dealt with urgently so as to ensure there is confidence in the system and the Commissioner. The Government should change the role of the Commissioner to one of an Armed Forces Ombudsman. Our Servicemen and Servicewomen deserve a complaints system that is as good as it can be. Not to provide this would be a failure of the nation&#8217;s duty to them.&#8221;


Committee Membership is as follows:
Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP (Conservative, North East Hampshire) (Chair), Mr Julian Brazier MP, (Conservative, Canterbury), Thomas Docherty MP (Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife), Rt Hon Jeffrey M. Donaldson MP (Democratic Unionist, Lagan Valley), Mr Dai Havard MP (Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney), Mr Adam Holloway MP (Conservative, Gravesham), Mrs Madeleine Moon MP (Labour, Bridgend), Penny Mordaunt MP (Conservative, Portsmouth North), Sandra Osborne MP (Labour, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock), Sir Bob Russell MP, (Liberal Democrat, Colchester), Bob Stewart MP (Conservative, Beckenham), Ms Gisela Stuart MP (Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Specific Committee Information: 020 7219 4453
Media Enquiries: Alex Paterson 020 7219 1589 / 07917 488 488
Committee Website: Defence Committee - UK Parliament
Committee Twitter:
Watch committees and parliamentary debates online: Parliament Live TV » home

Publications / Reports / Reference Material: Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Parliamentary Bookshop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474). Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on Home page - UK Parliament

PRESS RELEASE - 21 March 2013

After 5 years the Armed Forces complaints system is still inefficient and undermines confidence in the chain of command. Service Complaint Commissioner urges Ombudsman as way ahead

Today the Service Complaints Commissioner Dr Susan Atkins presents her Annual Report for the past year to Parliament. It makes stark reading.

In her report Dr Atkins presents, for the fifth year in a row, how poorly the system is dealing with complaints Service personnel have made when things have gone wrong in their Service lives. She concludes that the system is still not working efficiently, effectively or fairly and that, after 5 years, this is unacceptable.

Some of the key conclusions in the Report are:

&#8226; After five years of operation, the Service complaints system is still not working efficiently, effectively or fairly. It is neither swift, nor easy to use. The Services too often focus on the process rather than justice and have lost sight of the individual.

&#8226; The Navy currently has the best record in dealing with Service complaints but the position in the Army and Air Force has worsened since 2011.

&#8226; The number of people contacting the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC) has continued to rise steadily and having the SCC has given confidence to many who would otherwise have not spoken out.

&#8226; Users of the Service complaints system believe that delay by the chain of command is unfair to those bringing complaints and those complained about, fails to protect Service personnel and undermines confidence in the chain of command.

&#8226; The SCC strongly believes that an Armed Forces Ombudsman is required, to simplify the Service complaints system, support operational effectiveness and deliver justice for Service personnel.

Speaking today, the Service Complaints Commissioner for the Armed Forces (SCC) Dr Susan Atkins said:
&#8220;My report gives an in-depth picture of the SCC&#8217;s work and the performance of the Royal Navy, Army and RAF in dealing with complaints from Service personnel during 2012. For the fifth year running, I find that the Armed Forces have failed to give Servicemen and Servicewomen an efficient, effective and fair system through which they can raise a complaint.

It is not right that Service personnel have to wait for a year or longer to have their problems resolved. It is not an efficient or effective use of resources to have senior Officers&#8217; time tied up in dealing with problems that could have been resolved if dealt with more swiftly. The system is too complex, too bureaucratic and needs to be simplified.&#8221;

The report shows the limits of the SCC&#8217;s powers to ensure that the Services deal with complaints from Service personnel in a timely and proper way.

Dr Atkins went on to say:

&#8220;As in my 2010 and 2011 Annual Reports, I recommend that my role should be changed to that of Ombudsman for the Armed Forces. This recommendation was robustly endorsed by the House of Commons Defence Committee in their recent report on my work. An Ombudsman for the Armed Forces is anessential step to improving confidence in the system and the chain of command, and ensuring the fair treatment of Service personnel.&#8221;

&#8220;Both my Annual Report and the Report published in February by the Defence Committee urge the Ministry of Defence to grip this issue more effectively, especially in relation to the time taken to deliver justice. &#8220;


&#8226; The majority of Service personnel (75%) are aware of the SCC role and
how the SCC can help them

&#8226; 572 potential Service complaints were received by the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC) in 2012, of which 13 per cent were from Servicewomen.

&#8226; This is a third more than in 2011 and nearly two thirds more than 2010.

&#8226; Service complaints made directly to the Services also increased.

&#8226; The types of complaints and the way they are handled varies between
the three Services. The Navy currently has the best record in resolving cases in a timely way. The position in the Army and RAF worsened in 2012.

&#8226; 525 new Service complaints were made in the Army in 2012, a relatively low increase (7%) compared to 2011. However by the end of the year, there were still 582 Service complaints awaiting decision at Commanding Officer level.

&#8226; Despite the Army streamlining how it handles appeals, backlogs at the end of the year were greater than in 2011. If the cases at Army Board level were decided at the 2012 rate, it would take 3 years to decide the backlog.

&#8226; At the end of 2012 the Army had 430 cases which had been in the system for over 6 months. Only 77 of those complaints were made in 2012.

&#8226; The numbers of Service complaints made to the RAF chain of command doubled in 2012 and the numbers of complaints about bullying trebled. Delay continued to be a problem in the RAF,
particularly at Unit level, and backlogs increased. The RAF had 148 Service complaints which had been in the system for more than 24 weeks at the end of 2012.

&#8226; Unlike the Army and RAF, very few complaints in the Navy were about bullying or other improper behaviour. Most concerned poor administration. The Navy resolved most of the complaints made during 2012 and removed its backlog at Navy Board level.

&#8226; There was also a significant reduction in numbers of formal and informal complaints about improper behaviour across the Navy. That said, the Navy has the highest number of anonymous reports of incidents of bullying, harassment and discrimination, according to the Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey (AFCAS). The reasons for this disparity are not clear and should be investigated.

&#8226; A new single time target of 24 weeks has been agreed for the resolution of all new Service complaints made after 1 January 2013, wherever and however they are resolved.

&#8226; The SCC&#8217;s powers have also been strengthened slightly to enable her to make reports to Ministers, if she is not satisfied with the timely or proper handling of individual cases.

&#8226; Whilst welcoming these developments, the SCC does not believe they are sufficient. She is not optimistic about the Services&#8217; ability to meet these deadlines under the current complex system used by the Services, which is inefficient and too resource hungry.

&#8226; An increasing theme amongst those who contacted the SCC in 2012 was a lack of confidence in the chain of command to resolve their complaint fairly and a perception of closing of ranks. The SCC is most concerned at the potential erosion in confidence in the chain of command, which she believes is essential to operational effectiveness and at the heart of military life.

Dr Atkins continued:

&#8220;An Armed Forces Ombudsman would enable the system to be simplified in a way that promotes fairness to individuals and supports operational effectiveness. It would preserve the primacy of the chain of command but more effectively hold the Services to account for the just and fair treatment of Service personnel as part of the Armed Forces Covenant. Our Servicemen and Servicewomen deserve nothing less.&#8221;

The SCC&#8217;s 2012 Annual Report will be available online from 11.30am on 21 March 2013 at: News & Publications

Download the SCC's Annual Report, published on 21 March 2013, from here:

Press release:

PDF of full report (well worth reading):


"...Our Servicemen and Servicewomen deserve a complaints system that is as good as it can be. Not to provide this would be a failure of the nation’s duty to them.”
While I fully agree with the sentiment, I fear it's going to take a considerable, and some might say, impossible, shift in culture to change the way we look at those who wish to raise concerns. (I hate the term 'whistleblower', as it gives quite the wrong impression).

One area which I feel might stand scrutiny is the implementation and employment of a system of confidential occurrence reporting, using an accredited third-party agency to provide a safe system of dialogue. Industrial precedents already exist in the UK, see CHIRP (Aviation), CHIRP (Maritime) and the rail sector's CIRAS for examples. Another is CHAINS, ( currently under consideration for the oil & gas exploration and production sector. All good examples of simple systems with a proven record of resolving issues. Military aviation across all three Services use a similar system, and it could easily be used to aid the current complaints system.

I've tried to bring this subject to the attention of the Defence Select Committee in the recent past; they're 'looking into it'.
Formal recognition of BAFF along similar lines to the Police Federation would be a step in the right direction. It is not a trade union, has no political affiliation or ulterior motive and if Service Regulations are written sensibly enough, there need not be any clash with the Chain of Command or Service ethos.


Formal recognition of BAFF along similar lines to the Police Federation would be a step in the right direction. It is not a trade union, has no political affiliation or ulterior motive and if Service Regulations are written sensibly enough, there need not be any clash with the Chain of Command or Service ethos.

But those who don't like the idea of BAFF will continue to say that it does. And then you've got the 'blind loyalty' gang who's eyes are never far from that next promotion to contend with, who'll agree with anything that the management say.

There's clearly a problem. And it's not a new one.
The chain of command are (quite rightly) obligated to follow legal orders and achieve the mission in the best manner. Someone needs to be responsible for looking after the rights and welfare of the individuals. Obviously the two objectives often combine but when they diverge, I would prefer the issue was taken up by our own in the form of a BAFF Rep than by an outside ombudsman or political appointee.
Many thanks for those points. I can certainly see the argument that an armed forces ombudsman would be another attempt to "shoot the BAFF fox", to which I say "carry on shooting, chaps if it improves things for armed forces personnel and veterans".

In fact BAFF's own evidence to the Defence Committee inquiry supported the enhancement of the Service Complaints Commissioner's powers to those of a full Armed Forces Ombudsman. We are quoted at this link from the Guardian: Military staff fear redundancy if they complain about bullying.

What form a Armed Forces Ombudsman should take in our country is a subject for further debate. There are plenty of overseas examples working well but, as with the idea of a representative federation, I would not look for a one-size-fits-all solution from elsewhere.

My own view is that we should build on the work of the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC), and enhance that office's powers, to include investigation of individual live complaints as well as "theme" investigations and oversight of the system. This would certainly need enhanced resources, but we also support the SCC's call for simplification and speeding up of the existing service complaints system.


Hackle I agree, I think that there are considerable issues that require addressing, however there is the workings of a good system if it can be reinforced with greater powers.

It would appear that the majority of the issues are caused by the intransigence of the MoD to relinquish any additional powers to the SCC. The inherent design of the current complaints system effectively allows for some abuse of power to be tolerated and complaints ignored.

The MoD dictate SCC policy, and until the Service Complaints Commissioner is given additional powers to determine her own policy and to intervene and investigate certain cases there will continue to be issues.
But who do they complain to when they are told we cannot have 100% discount at some shit shop when in uniform.
I abhor bullying in any form and anywhere. Personnel using rank to bully should be sacked - no appeal, simply kicked out.

That said, I think we the tax-payers ought to have an ombudsman to stop the frantic twerps in Parliament from bullying us and wasting our hard-earned cash. The Blair-Brown Terror was an appalling government; a shambles, a disgrace, but this current gang of hapless ne'er-do-wells are running neck and neck with them in the Most Dreadful Government Ever competition.
How external are we talking? If it is staffed by people who have never served then they are unlikely to fully comprehend the unique dynamics that make up Service life and flavour Service humour. If it is staffed by people who have reached very senior positions it may be staffed by people who are, ta best, institutionalised or at worst formerly were part of the problem. Similarly if you take someone who has experienced Service life but not benefited from it than you are likely to be employing someone with an axe to grind.

That doesn't mean that the right people for the right job can't be found just that it cannot be seen as just another RO position for the chaps. Personally if BAFF keeps itself as it promises to do and acts more as an advisory and avocational service for the individual and does not seek to become a Union then I think it is already well-placed to offer advice and assistance and to be used a bit like the IPCC without being a political monster or a full blown union. Sometimes taking it on the chin is synonymous with enormous injustice and takes advantage of a soldier's sometimes (in certain circumstances) missplaced loyalty to his CoC. A loyalty that can sometimes be one way traffic,

If there is a common theme to most well-publicised cases within the Army it has been that the complainant has almost always sought redress through the CoC which have either covered things up or ignored them. The Army isn't any softer than it was but individuals are less prepared to accept that they must take any amount of discrimination or bigotry of bullying on the chin and just get on with it. There is humour and their is relentless belittling or undermining of an individual's feeling of self-worth. I don't believe that the Services are infested with outrageous behaviour but knowing that there is independent recourse to justice may just sustain the victims and dissuade to perpetrators.

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A shame we can't get someone to stop the abuse of the system and people by MPs!
SCC.....mmmm brilliant idea, poorly executed.
I say this from experience but from the opposite end of the process.
I and a few other SNCO's were subject to a SCC back end of 2011. In meantime i deployed to HERRICK, came back and then only whilst on POTL Dec 2012 did some form of closure come about.
The SCC itself was over our supposed bad treatment of a F&C soldier along with his cold weather injury. Of course the statements and evidence that was presented by his legal bloke was very detailed, going back 3 years in some cases with days, times and more detail, which the cynic in me thought it was all a bit too much pre-planned! The part against me was i shouted at the bloke, did not believe some of what he had said and other minor things but i hasten to add, no racist complaint was part of the complaint against me.
Every 30 days your Unit is meant to update you on the progress of the SCC.....well it took some strongly worded emails and verbal confrontations in BASTION to tell the Regtl heirachy they basically were not doing their job and actually i got an apology later on. You notice i said BASTION, the updates stopped Jan 12 and i took up my grievance over the whole process June 12!!
The end result was nothing was found to be wrong in our (read the Army's) handling of this soldier (well civvy, we got presented the SCC the day he left the Army), with only a comment that in my case it was found that i could be a bit too old fashioned in the way i disciplined him (the shouting at him bit, which i actually denied). Apart from the failing on the Regt and the way it handled the case, i was told the Complaint took so long because the SCC itself is inundated with Complaints and cant keep up.


There needs to be a system which works for both parties and does so expeditiously. I've been through the mill, took 3 years as they dragged their heels deliberately, but I won at the end of the day. I say won, there wasn't a prize, all there was, was persistent aggravation right up until the day I finished my time. It's a shit system and one which in it's current state is difficult to 'police'. That doesn't need to be the case. An independent body, free from all the usual allegiances, would be a step in the right direction. The redress system as I recall it was limited to three months from the incident. I do not know if this remains the same, as I've been out for a couple of years now.

I am fan of BAFF, I can see the potential. I wouldn't wish to settle for some diluted MoD version where former RMP Officers/ex Police Officers were given command/senior appointments due to their so called investigative experience (which is at best scant). Just look at the IHAT if you want evidence of what happens or doesn't as is the case, when it's jobs for the boys who understand just who they report to. Any 'they don't understand the military culture' argument thrown up is nothing but a smoke screen. Sometimes it's better to have a genuinely fresh pair of eyes, but BAFF is as close to satisfying both camps as it can get at this time. Maybe it's time for these politicians and journalists to force the issue, because to do so would only improve upon the fiasco that currently reigns.

Natural justice should prevail, and justice for both sides is equally important. False allegations need to be weeded out very early in the game and no 'accused' should be made to wait until it's 'convenient' for the system to let them know the result.


An organisation such as BAFF would seem to offer a suitable mechanism to provide oversight, sitting as it does between both camps, while having the ear of the Defence Committee. What is needed, as you've identified, is the will to change the prevailing culture.
Biscuits....couldnt agree more, especially your last sentence!


An organisation such as BAFF would seem to offer a suitable mechanism to provide oversight, sitting as it does between both camps, while having the ear of the Defence Committee. What is needed, as you've identified, is the will to change the prevailing culture.

If you wait for the will to change, you'll be waiting a long time. They'll drag it out until the collect their pensions. It needs to forced upon them.


If you wait for the will to change, you'll be waiting a long time. They'll drag it out until the collect their pensions. It needs to forced upon them.

I concur. My question is how do we force this change, and by what mechanism? Clearly BAFF are well ahead in this issue.