Exposing Walter Mitty: The Awards for Valour (Protection) Bill Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.We do not agree with the justifications provided by the Ministry of Defence for repealing offences relating to the protection of decorations without replacing them. If the offences in the Army Act 1955 were unsuitable to be directly transposed, the Armed Forces 2006 Act should have included new, more workable offences which were well scoped and which incorporated appropriate exceptions. (Paragraph 12)

2.We question the contention that the prevention of a financial or other tangible gain was the most important element of these offences at the time they were drafted. It may have been an important consideration in the 1955 Act, but if the prohibition was intended to be confined to financial or other tangible gains, then it must be questioned why such matters were not specified in the offences. Incidents involving military imposters may arise which do not fall within the ambit of the Fraud Act, and these would go unpunished. As we set out later in our Report, military imposters perpetrate a specific harm that mandates a specific prohibition, rather than relying on offences of more general application. (Paragraph 13)

3.We also disagree that offences involving an intention to deceive which are not related to fraud may raise practical difficulties on questions of proof. Such offences do exist: for example, the offence of police impersonation under section 90 of the Police Act 1996. Therefore, we conclude that the legal concept of deception is sufficiently well established for this not to cause major difficulties. (Paragraph 14)

4.The precise level of incidence of the behaviour the Bill aims to prevent is difficult to determine because statistics on previous infringements have not been recorded in a form allowing accurate identification of the relevant offences. The assessment of Service charities in encountering military imposters also seems to vary. There remains however, a body of strong anecdotal evidence that points to military imposters being a continuing problem. (Paragraph 21)

5.Both the sponsor of the Bill and the other witnesses took the view that the unauthorised and deceitful use of military decorations and medals is a harm that is worthy of specific criminal prohibition. We support their arguments that such behaviour is not only insulting to the rightful recipients of these awards, but also damages the integrity of the military honours system and the bond of trust and respect between the public and the Armed Forces. (Paragraph 24)

6.The enactment of criminal prohibitions should always merit the most serious consideration. We conclude that there is a tangible and identifiable harm created by military imposters against members of society who should rightly be held in its highest esteem. Therefore, we believe that specific prohibitions to mitigate this harm are justified. (Paragraph 25)

7.Criminalisation of the unauthorised and deceitful wearing of decorations and medals is commonplace in many other jurisdictions, to such an extent that a lack of similar protection in the United Kingdom can be viewed as exceptional. Other countries have not sought to repeal these longstanding protections and we believe that the anomalous position of the United Kingdom should now be corrected. (Paragraph 30)

8.We recommend that the Ministry of Defence should set out the practicalities of creating an online, publicly-searchable database to record those who are rightful recipients of gallantry and distinguished conduct awards, along similar lines to the database instituted by the US Department of Defense. This would allow authoritative verification of claims to entitlement and act as a deterrent to military imposters, whose deceptions would be liable to swift and accurate exposure. (Paragraph 31)

9.Criminal offences need to be properly defined in order to provide certainty about what is being placed on the statute book. Without that certainty, offences may be interpreted by the courts in a way that Parliament did not intend. The rules regarding eligibility within the military honours system are complex and categorising awards is not straightforward. (Paragraph 38)

10.We conclude that those awards to be covered by the Bill should be listed in a Schedule, or by reference to an authoritative external list. (Paragraph 39)

11.The inclusion of a defence to ensure that family members representing deceased or incapacitated relations who are recipients of medals is vital, but ‘family member’ must be properly defined to ensure that there is no room for uncertainty or abuse. We suggest that the Bill include a definition of ‘family member’ in order to provide certainty over who will be covered by this category. (Paragraph 42)

12.The appropriate level of penalty has clearly been considered in some detail by the Bill sponsor. We are broadly satisfied that the boundaries of penalties proposed—a period of imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine—are appropriate. (Paragraph 44)

13.We are satisfied that the creation of new offences relating to decorations and medals would not encroach upon the legislative competences of the devolved institutions. (Paragraph 47)

14.The case law of the European Court of Human Rights suggests that a successful challenge would be unlikely. This possibility will be reduced further if the Bill is clearly scoped and contains offences which are unambiguous in their application and extent. (Paragraph 50)

15.We conclude that the protections sought in the Bill are necessary to safeguard the integrity of the military honours system, to reflect the justifiably strong public condemnation of the deceitful use of military honours, and to ensure that legitimate recipients of these distinguished awards should not have to endure the intrusion of imposters. (Paragraph 53)

16.We support this Bill and are confident that the refinements we suggest in our Report can be addressed either at Second Reading or during the Committee Stage of the Bill. We look to the Government to endorse the Bill and to facilitate its passage through Parliament. (Paragraph 54)

16 November 2016