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Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that no body was ever found, and that there were no hospital records whatever? How could there be a trial in a civil court in this country when there is no evidence of a body, let alone of a murder?
The point that the Judge Advocate General was making was that there were serious omissions in the investigation, such as the failure to search hospital records or take DNA swabs, the fact that defendants and witnesses were not interviewed and cautioned until six months after the incident, and that the clothing of the victim should have been seized much earlier. Indeed, he reiterated that general point in evidence before the Constitutional Affairs Committee, saying that there were serious concerns in the Army prosecuting authority about the quality of the investigation.
I know that the Under-Secretary of State has said that the intention is to have closer liaison with and closer early involvement by the prosecuting authority in the investigation, as is the practice with the Crown Prosecution Service, which is now present in most police stations. It would be interesting to hear what specific proposals he can present to improve the quality of investigations, which has been such a problem in many cases.
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Many hon. Members have mentioned the length of casesthey take too long to come before a court martial. Simple cases take months and some take more than a year from offence to trial. In the case of Baha Mousa it took, I think, 22 months before anyone was charged with the offence. It would be interesting to hear what the Under-Secretary has to say, as I understand that some of the proposals are intended to expedite cases. There could be a problem with resourcesa matter that the hon. Gentleman has touched on in comments outside the House.
The subject of the independence of investigations has been touched on by several hon. Members. There is still some confusion in my mind about the role and jurisdiction of the civilian authorities in relation to serious offences such as rape, murder and manslaughter committed within the United Kingdom. I understand that the Secretary of State said earlier that there had been no change, and that there was already concurrent jurisdiction between the civilian and military authorities.
In his evidence to the Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Judge Advocate General said that under current law, offences of murder, manslaughter and rape committed in the UK were dealt with by the civilian court, and the court martial did not have jurisdiction, although he was of the opinion that that would change as a result of these proposals. I would be grateful if the Under Secretary clarified that matter.
As a general principle, there is a need for clear and unambiguous civilian control of the investigations of suspicious deaths within the UK. Indeed the High Court recently made that point in the case of Kathleen Thompson, criticising the Army's decision to delegate to the Royal Military Police in that case. Of course, a broader point is made by the Deepcut families and the Surrey police, who have reiterated the need for an external review of the investigations, and by the Defence Committee, in its call for an independent military complaints commission.
As we have heard, we have seen the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Last year, the independent prisons ombudsman was introduced, so that it is no longer the Prison Service that investigates deaths in custody. In order to achieve public confidence and effective public scrutiny, we have an independent process in all those areas in which the state has a particular monopoly.
Pete Wishart: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Does he agree that the military is the last bastion standing against that trend and that it is time to ensure that we have a proper external complaints commission, authority or ombudsman to pursue such matters? When the Army investigates itself, there is a sense of institutional protectionismit attempts to protect its own interests. We need a completely separate process to monitor and examine complaints effectively in order to satisfy public opinion and the families involved.
Adam Price: I agree; we need an independent process to maintain public confidence. If proper processes were in place to ensure effective public scrutiny, the greatest benefit would be to the armed forces.
In the response by Ministers to the previous Defence Committee's report on Deepcut, the promise was made that the Government would look at the international
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models that it mentioned. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) also mentioned those models. There is a wide range of international models, all with different elements of independent oversight of procedures. The Government have made some compromise, with an independent member of the grievance panel, but that will not be enough to satisfy the Deepcut families or the wider public interest in independence in the process. External review does happen, and I understand that South Wales police and Lancashire police have occasionally been asked to participate in peer review of investigations. However, we do not have a single, independent body to which families, service personnel or members of the public can make their complaints.
The Judge Advocate General made some additional proposals to improve the independence of the process. For example, he said that the military court service, which is now part of the MOD, should join the civilian court service as part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs; that the administrative staff and those responsible for listing cases should be the responsibility of the judges, as in the civilian system, and not of officials in the MOD; and that sentencing should be done by judges, not by the military panels that currently decide penalties within a bracket set by the Judge Advocate General.
The key point is the need for an independent ombudsman. Otherwise the only avenues available for families or civilians abroadin areas where we are in military occupationwill be to call for a public inquiry, with all the expense that that means for the public purse, or through the system of tort. It has always been possible, of course, to bring civil proceedings against the British Army, but that requires expenditure by the individuals. Surely an independent military complaints commission or ombudsman would be the most effective remedy, whether for the family of Baha Mousa in Iraq, where we were responsible as the military occupation gave us jurisdiction, for the Deepcut families or in other allegations of abuse. It would allow greater public scrutiny, which is a feature of the American system.
Whatever our feelings about the allegations of abuse levelled at American forces, the degree of public scrutiny by the American authorities is unparalleled compared with the amount of public scrutiny we have been able to effect in the UK. At the last count, there were 12 reports by the American authorities into allegations of abuse in IraqSchlesinger, Taguba, Jones, Fay, Kern, Church and so onon top of the congressional inquiries. There has been nothing like that in the UK. We understand that after the Camp Breadbasket case, the Army conducted an internal review, but we are not allowed to see it. We do not even know whether it has been completed. It covers many issues that are sub judice and we do not need to see those, but a version of the report would inform our debates. We have nothing like the public scrutiny of the military that is undertaken in the United States and other jurisdictions.
I want to make a few points about legal representation. Much opprobrium has been heaped on the heads of human rights lawyers who acted for Iraqi civilians. I do not want to enter that debate, but many of those lawyers operated pro bono publicoin the public interestand where we deny Iraqis the right to take cases under local law it is our responsibility to ensure
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that they have adequate legal representation in UK courts. Where there is a status of forces agreement internationally, rather than blackguarding such human rights lawyers, we should consider procedures for providing adequate legal representation for civilians in those areas.
I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble): soldiers found guilty of murder, rape or bullying should not be allowed to remain in the Army and to rejoin it on their release. A recent case involving two members of the Guards who were found guilty of manslaughter and allowed to rejoin the regiment caused much upset to the family of Peter McBride, the individual who was killed. Queen's regulations state that a person should be dismissed after a custodial sentence unless there are exceptional circumstances. Will the Minister tell us whether changes are proposed as a result of the Bill?
In relation to the post-appeal remedy, I understand that service personnel have no recourse to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, although Ministers have said that they should have. It is not clear why such a provision has not been included in the Bill. The Minister said that other priorities made it impossible, but perhaps he could elucidate. What are those priorities? Why has not it been possible to include the provision?
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