Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 880 - 889)



  880. So if you or I were invited by a Serviceman in Germany to represent them, would he be able to get legal aid through the Army Legal Aid system?
  (Mr Bache) No, it never was available through the Army Legal Aid system. It was always available through the general Legal Aid Board system, as it then was, in other words exactly the same scheme as operates to assist civilian people in civilian police stations in this country and indeed exactly the same scheme as continues to exist to assist Service personnel being interviewed by Service police in this country. It is the same scheme. It was available to Service personnel overseas and then that came to an end. So a degree of choice was effectively cut down.

  881. So does that mean that Service personnel, whether they are in Cyprus or indeed in Germany, now have exclusively to rely on the Army Legal Service?
  (Mr Bache) Either that or they have to pay completely for a civilian lawyer to come out. There is no prevention, there is nobody saying you cannot have a civilian lawyer, but if they want a civilian lawyer they will have to pay not only for the travelling but also for the time of the interview itself.

  882. Would you agree then that that represents a substantial decline in the availability of choice for a private soldier?
  (Mr Bache) Most definitely.

  883. The second area I would like to probe for a moment is this question of the disadvantage that a Serviceman has over a civilian because of the process, the length of time. Did I hear you right when you said that in a civilian situation in this country a duty solicitor might be called to a police station in one of our constituencies on a Saturday night and from that moment legal aid would be available?
  (Mr Bache) Nearly always. In the civilian situation there is questioning. I do not know the statistics but in the vast majority of cases it is followed by charge and once a charge exists proceedings exist and legal aid is then available straightaway to assist the suspect to put his case together, and that is extremely important because the evidential trail, if you like, can still be hot. Witnesses who saw the fight, or whatever it was, they will still have their memories fresh. Not all witnesses are tracked or traced by the police and questioned and sometimes defence teams can find essential witnesses and obtain statements from them whilst it is fresh. That is not the situation with Services personnel either in this country or abroad. At the end of the questioning at the Services police station they will be told that they will be reported for a disciplinary offence, they are not charged, the machinery goes into operation, all sorts of things happen. As I say, it can easily be getting on for a year down the line before the circumstances statutorily arise when they are entitled to apply for legal aid. So the defence team cannot get to work on dealing with what could be a very serious matter probably something like a year after the incident and this can be disastrous, and it has been disastrous in a number of ways because one of the things it can lead to is, effectively, the abortion of the trial once you have started and sometimes a defence application will succeed and for one reason or another, because of the delay prejudicing the accused, the trial does not take place and that of course is hugely expensive.

  884. So would I be right to suggest that the Ministry of Defence has an unfair advantage in prosecuting Servicemen and women compared to the police, for example, prosecuting civilians?
  (Mr Bache) I believe so.

  885. Was that why Forces law sought to establish a military panel of solicitors?
  (Mr Bache) Yes it was and also because there are significant differences, it seems to me, in procedures and culture which those who do not practise these matters regularly do not possess, and it can be an advantage to have somebody who has got some knowledge at least of the way things work.

  886. I have in front of me a letter from a firm of solicitors in Aldershot or rather the reply to that letter from the Legal Services Commission and they turned down the suggestion of a Military Panel of Solicitors on the ground that the work is not greatly different to that provided to non-military clients and that they do not wish to restrict the number of solicitors capable of providing advice to military personnel, but the Criminal Defence Service representative who wrote the letter said that the Ministry of Defence was consulting with the three Services and would revert back to you in due course. Has there been any response from the Ministry of Defence?
  (Mr Bache) Not as far as I am aware.

  Mr Key: That is something we no doubt might pursue then. Thank you very much.

Mr Randall

  887. I was just wondering whether you considered that in the provisions that we have got in front of us in this Armed Forces Bill that there is going to be a greater need for representation for Service personnel or not, or do you think it will be minimal?
  (Mr Bache) Yes I think there is because, as I understand it, there are provisions for enhancing the powers of Service police in relation to searches and so on and so forth and that can create a very urgent need for legal assistance at the point that these things are happening and can sometimes be quite a crucial juncture because much of evidential value is probably going to be gathered at that time and it is necessary to see that it is gathered properly and it is necessary to see that it is gathered fully.

  888. And you do not see that there is anything in the Bill that would enable that need for legal representation to happen? That would be down to people like yourselves?
  (Mr Bache) Yes.


  889. Then time is marching on but we have had certain events we had not quite planned for. Are there any final comments Mr Bache or Mrs Cameron might wish to make?
  (Mrs Cameron) Not from my point of view, Chairman, no, I am fine thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. It has certainly given us information and an insight into the realities of what Armed Forces law is dealing with and it has been extremely helpful. Thank you very much indeed for giving up your time and coming along to give the Committee evidence this morning. Once again I am sorry for the delays that took place. Thank you.

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