Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 849 - 859)



  Chairman: A very warm welcome, indeed, to Mr Bache and Mrs Cameron. I apologise for having kept you waiting.

  Mr Key: Chairman, on a point of order, may I just, out of courtesy to the Committee, say that Mr Bache and Mrs Cameron are known to me, because their firm of solicitors happens to have been my family solicitors for very many years.


  849. Thank you very much, Mr Key. Can I ask you if you would like to say anything by way of an opening statement before I hand over to the very keen and eager members of the Committee to raise certain issues and questions with you?
  (Mr Bache) Chairman, I do not know to what extent the Committee wishes to hear what credentials I posses for being able to, I hope, assist you on the matters about which I wish to speak.

  850. We have had your written submission.
  (Mr Bache) I can take that as read. To summarise, I suppose there are four main points I think I might be able to assist on. The first is the question of Legal Aid for civilian lawyers at SIB interviews, and so on, overseas. The second is the juncture at which a Service person ought to be able to obtain Legal Aid, which I think ought to be at an earlier stage than it is at the moment. Related to that problem, very closely related to it, is the question of the procedures that currently exist, which have to be followed in relation to matters going to court-martial, and which, as far as I can see, always have the result of producing substantial delays between investigation and trial. The final point, and it is outside the arena of criminal law, is to do with assisting Service personnel who require advice on redresses of grievance, and that sort of thing. It is access to the regulations, and so on, that govern their lives. It is not always easy for civilian legal advisers to obtain access to those. Of course, it is essential to be able to know what they say if you are going to give them proper advice. Those are the four areas about which I think I might be able to help you.

  851. Thank you very much.
  (Mr Bache) Mrs Cameron has been a colleague of mine for many years. She is also the administrator of the Forces Network, otherwise known as Forces Law. As I understand there may be some interest in that organisation. She is, perhaps, in a better position to speak about them than I am.
  (Mrs Cameron) Thank you, Chairman. The Forces Legal Network as it was in its inception was the brainchild of an ex army officer about five or six years ago who felt that the Service person was not receiving the level of legal advice that they should be. He approached various lawyers, Bill being one of the first, to ask if they would be prepared to join a number of lawyers—at that stage it was not clear how many would want to be involved—to offer their services to Service personnel. This grew, and today there are over 20 firms up and down the country who are part of Forces Law, all high street firms, all offering different types of legal advice, not just for criminal matters or, indeed, redress, but for wills, conveyancing matters and everything that pertains to the Service person. We offer independent legal advice. It is not anything to do with the military system. It is geared to all members of the Services, be they private soldiers, ratings, right up to the officers involved. The reason for the network is to look after the Service bases in many parts of the country. It is also to keep up the independent aspect of it so that one firm is not getting all of the work. Indeed, we hope to offer the truly independent type of service that they need. I leave it there for the time being. Obviously if members need to ask questions I would be very happy to answer them.

  852. Can I briefly ask, are there parts of the Forces Law delivered in Scotland?
  (Mrs Cameron) Yes, we do deliver in various parts of Scotland at the moment.

Mr Keetch

  853. Do you believe that Service personnel currently have a sufficient choice of legal representatives?
  (Mr Bache) It depends, it seems to me, on the juncture at which they are seeking legal advice and where. In this country, yes, I believe they do. They are entitled to ask, for instance, at the Services police interview, the SIB, or whoever it might be, for any solicitor of their choice. That can be obtained either through the duty solicitor scheme or through a network such as ourselves, or they might just know some individual that they want and ask that person. Interestingly, as I understand it, they are not entitled in this country to seek legal assistance from a member of the Services legal services. It might be thought that that is, perhaps, an imbalance because if they really want somebody from one of their services then it might be thought that they should have them. Anyway, there is that restriction. Apart from that I think the choice is reasonably good. Overseas it seems to me to be a different story at the moment, because they are effectively told that they can have, at public expense, a member of the Services legal services or no one, as I understand it. The practice had existed for a good ten years when I was dealing with such matters. I could be invited to go out to Germany, or something of that sort, I would give advice at the Services police station exactly the same way as I would give advice in this country. For that advice and the assistance and the time involved at the police station I would be paid in exactly the same way as I would be paid for attending in this country. At the end of 1999 the Legal Aid Board's, as it then was, practice changed and that assistance was discontinued. Now any soldier or serviceman overseas who wants assistance from a private lawyer either will have to pay completely himself or he cannot have it. That seems to me to be quite a bad problem because servicemen, of course, have different thoughts, some are very happy with Services lawyers, and there is no reason why they should not be, but others do not want them, for all sorts of different reasons. They have been prepared to pay for my air fare, which is the regime that it used to operate, whatever it was, £200, £300 or £400 to go out to Germany and help them, rather than have a Services lawyer assist them at no expense.

  854. Is there any reluctance on the part of solicitors or barristers to represent servicemen because they might not get paid sufficiently well?
  (Mr Bache) I do not think anybody practising criminal law, whether it is in this area or in civilian work, is overburdened with the money that it brings. I think those of us who wish to provide this service will do it almost despite the level of pay. I do not think it interferes severely with choice, no.

  855. There is nothing in this Bill that can make that situation worse?
  (Mr Bache) Not that I can see. I think there may be a lost opportunity to put right what I think, in my opinion, needs to be put right.

Mr Davies

  856. Mr Bache, I wonder if I can, first of all, clear up what appears to be an inconsistency between your written testimony to us and your memorandum, for which we thank you very much, and the testimony we have had from the Ministry of Defence. Because you say, and I refer here to paragraph 8(b) of your own memorandum. "Unlike the system which pertains in the civilian criminal system a member of the Armed Forces who is `charged' at a Services police station is not therefore entitled to any form of Legal Aid to assist the preparation of his defence". The memorandum we have had from the Ministry of Defence on this subject, from Mr David Woodhead, you may have seen a copy of, it is now a public document, in paragraph 12 says, "In addition, there are instances where individuals are entitled to legal representation at public expense before charge. The eligibility criteria are exactly the same as for civilians. Service personnel in the UK are covered by the civilian duty solicitor scheme to ensure they are represented in interview by the Service police, should they so wish". It goes on to say, "The fundamental point is that, in relation to criminal Legal Aid, Service personnel are not disadvantaged by virtue of their employment". There seems to be a complete inconsistency between your statement on the subject and that of the Ministry of Defence. Can you help us elucidate that?
  (Mr Bache) Yes, I am sure I can. The first thing to grasp hold of is that there are essentially different sorts of Legal Aid for different purposes. Stage one is the kind of Legal Aid that helps if you are being questioned by the police, and that ends at the police station. Stage two is a different form of Legal Aid which arises to help you in the preparation of your defence and subsequent representation at trial. As things exist at the moment in the military sphere there is assistance of one sort of another at the police station, as I have just explained. It is a different situation overseas compared with the United Kingdom. One way or another there is some form of assistance. At the end of the questioning at the police station, when all that is finished, there then is a gap between the end of the questioning and the start of what you might call the formal legal proceedings which lead to trial. That gap can be as long as 12 months in the military area. It is only after a number of procedures have being negotiated that the serviceman can again obtain a form of Legal Aid which will assist him with the preparation of his case and his representation there. It is that missing gap, it seems to me, that is a very considerable problem. It does not exist in the civilian sphere. If, as I understand the thrust of this Bill is to try and bring the provisions for representing members of the Armed Forces rather more closely in line with those that exist in the civilian area it seems to me this is something that has to be addressed.

  857. Let us look at the position now. You have just said that the position is different for civilians and the military. In other words, the statement in the MoD paper to us, "The fundamental point", and it is the fundamental point, "is that in relation to criminal Legal Aid, Service personnel are not disadvantaged by virtue of their employment". You are saying that they are disadvantaged in relation to civilians.
  (Mr Bache) Yes, I am.

  858. The advice we have had from the Ministry of Defence is false. Is that right?
  (Mr Bache) I believe it is inaccurate.

  859. What is the distinction between inaccurate or false?
  (Mr Bache) False can imply being deliberately false, and I am sure they are not doing that.

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