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Unequal battle

On 29 February next year APIL’s military claims conference will be focusing on the important theme of Women in the Armed Forces. Simon Quinn explains more.

After 14 years representing service personnel, it is truly shocking to see how many women in the armed forces are still treated so poorly - including being subjected to incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault and serious sexual assault. Concerns have been raised in recent reports, including (but not limited to):

  1. The House of Commons Defence Committee, Protecting those who protect us: Women in the Armed Forces from Recruitment to Civilian Life, Second Report of Session 2021–22.

  2. Women in the Armed Forces: Follow up.

Further, in the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces Annual Report 2022, key statistics and data included:

  • 1 in 210 service personnel raised a service complaint;

  • 8 out of 9 applications result in a complaint being investigated;

  • 43% of service complaints are upheld

The report found that some 24% of complaints related to bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Females are overrepresented: 12% of personnel, 21% of service complaints.

Officers are overrepresented: 20% of personnel, 30% of service complaints.

Cases that were appealed took an average of 79 weeks to close. As in previous years, complaints that involved allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination took significantly longer to resolve.

Sexual assault is such a serious issue, including in the armed forces. I have represented and continue to represent a number of service personnel who have been assaulted during service. Somewhat belatedly, the issue of sexual assault and abuse in the military is now receiving the public attention it should always have had. I have always believed that the UK’s civilian police, CPS and civilian courts - not the military - should deal with incidents of assault within the armed forces.

The time is long overdue for the armed forces to have their own specific ‘Me Too’ movement. A light now needs to be shone into the darkest recesses of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), holding those who have permitted this culture to be held accountable. At my firm we have witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of assaults that can be life changing, not only affecting the victim, but often their family and friends.

Call for evidence

Coincidentally to the upcoming conference, on 21 September the Defence Committee recently called for written evidence on Women in the Armed Forces. This follows publication of a July 2021 report that made a series of recommendations to improve the experiences of female service personnel and veterans. Notably, the government’s response in December 2021 agreed with many of those recommendations.

The Committee subsequently held a session with the MoD in November 2022 regarding any progress made on issues raised within the report. In May 2023, the Committee published anonymous whistleblower evidence from MoD medics who exposed unacceptable behaviour towards female service personnel and poor complaints handling. The Committee subsequently wrote to the Minister in July 2023.

On 14 November 2023, the Committee intends to hold a further session with the MoD, and ahead of this, it is calling for written evidence since the report was published. Practitioners in military claims on behalf of female service personnel and veterans are invited to provide written evidence to the Committee. It has asked the following questions:

  1. How much change has there been in past two years, when it comes to improving the experiences of female service personnel and / or female veterans?

  2. What specific changes are you aware of against the Committee’s initial recommendations?

  3. Are there areas where you hope to see more change?

  4. Do you see ‘easy wins’ for the Services / MoD?

  5. What has helped or hindered change?

APIL’s military claims conference

At APIL’s military claims conference in February there will be presentations from Suzi Donoghue of DJ Fox & Associates; Stuart McCracken & Chris Allen of Exchange Chambers, Ben Collins KC & Bruno Gil of Old Square Chambers, Michael Rawlinson KC and Charlotte Law of Kings Chambers and Aliyah Akram of 12 King’s Bench Walk.

The day will focus on women in the armed forces, including sessions on service complaints and civil claims; serious sexual assaults in the military, criminal injury claims and the CICO Scheme, discrimination, the tragic death of Olivia Perks, and will conclude with a panel session on hot tips to litigate against the MoD.

As well as the above sessions, we will also be touching on case law developments in military claims, including any updates on military noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) cases.

Simon Quinn is partner & head of military at Hilary Meredith Solicitors and joint coordinator of APIL’s military claims SIG. This article first appeared in PI Focus Magazine.


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