On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme Susan Atkins, the Service Complaints Commissioner, said that she did not have enough power and the Armed Forces needed an independent ombudsman. | Various papers report the Prime Minister's comments in Algeria that indicate he has ruled out further cuts to the Defence Budget. It is expected that Defence spending will rise in real terms after 2014. | The Guardian reports that fresh investigations have been ordered into the deaths of several prisoners who died in suspicious circumstances while in British military custody in Iraq. | Various papers report that the MOD has today set out its equipment plan and how it intends to spend £160bn over the next decade on new weapons systems.
Value of the War Pension Scheme
The Telegraph reports that injured veterans will see the value of their pension fall compared with the state pension this year. It is reported that the Government is protecting state pensions with a rise of 2.5 per cent, while pensions of injured veterans and widows - through the War Pension Scheme (WPS) - will rise by only 2.2 per cent, the level of inflation.
This story conflates two separate issues. The WPS, despite its name, is not a pension; it is a compensation scheme and paid to personnel who are injured in service or their widows and families. In 2005 it was replaced by the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.
The direct civilian equivalent of the WPS is disability benefits paid by the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Government has said both these will rise by 2.2 per cent. In addition, WPS payments are higher than state disability benefits.
Service personnel receive a pension through the Armed Forces Pension Scheme, which is more generous than the state pension and non-contributory. They also receive the state pension, which is protected by the Government's triple-lock scheme. Both of these are in addition to any benefits they may receive under the WPS.
Service justice and Service complaints
A story in The Times once again looks at the Service justice system as well as the issue of Service complaints. These two issues are often conflated when they should not be and it is important for us to set out why we have both a Service justice system and a procedure for Service complaints.
Our Armed Forces can be asked to deploy anywhere in the world, often in unstable areas. This kind of agility and reach, coupled with the professionalism that is their hallmark, requires the highest standards of conduct. This necessitates a single code of justice which is transportable anywhere in the world and provides a consistent and fair process, based on our criminal law, wherever they serve.
The Service justice system has the same essential hallmarks as the civilian justice system:
- Service Police conduct investigations independently and use similar procedures to civilian police;
- criminal conduct under the Service justice system is the same as under the civilian system - there are also additional specific Service offences;
- prison sentences or periods of Service detention which the court martial has the power to impose are the same as those which the Crown Court may impose; and
- the Service justice system has been closely examined and complies with domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights for independence and impartiality.
In the UK, personnel will be subject to either the Service justice or civilian justice system. Offences alleged against people subject to Service law which do not affect the person or property of civilians should normally be dealt with in Service proceedings and not a civilian court.
When offences are committed off-duty, involve civilians or take place on non-military premises they will ordinarily be dealt with by the civilian justice system as set out in the protocol between the Director of Service Prosecutions and Director of Public Prosecutions.
Decisions as to what charges should be faced by Armed Forces personnel in all serious cases are taken by the independent Director of Service Prosecutions who is under the general superintendence of the Attorney General. Neither the MOD, ministers nor the chain of command play any part in such decisions.
Trial judges are independent and the accused has rights of appeal to the Court Martial Appeal Court which is presided over by civilian judges who ordinarily sit on the Court of Appeal.
The Armed Forces are committed to treating all personnel fairly and transparently and we continue to look for, and implement, ways to improve the complaints system.
We recognise that complaints can take too long to reach a conclusion but steps have been taken to address this which includes a revised approach to how we work with the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC) so as to make best use of her unique oversight, experience and resources.
The SCC provides vital independent oversight of the complaints system to ensure it operates as effectively and efficiently as possible. Rather than acting as an ombudsman after an event, the Commissioner is able to contribute while complaints are still active.
To reduce delays, the Commissioner's role is being strengthened and she will be able to raise any concerns direct with the chain of command. She has the power to refer potential complaints to the chain of command for action and to receive updates. The SCC sees the outcome of all potential complaints she refers. She can raise observations and recommendations in her annual report.
The SCC can now offer her views to the chain of command if she sees that process is not being followed and is able to comment if she sees procedural delay on live cases which can itself lead to escalation, dissatisfaction and additional time taken to reach resolution. The role also creates an alternative point of contact for Service personnel and their families who wish to raise a concern.