Monroe Palmer writes: Reform of the complaints system for the Armed Forces

British soldiers on a training mission in Afghanistan -  Some rights reserved by AN HONORABLE GERMANThe Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill, currently going through report stage in the Lords, has a non-snappy title clearly not dreamt up with Public Relations in mind. It is however important as it includes creation of a Service Complaints Ombudsman and reform of Service complaints system.

As we move into Report stage the Liberal Democrat team, including the valuable contributions of my Lib Dem colleague Martin Thomas (Lord Thomas of Gresford), concentrated on two amendments. One to ensure that a complaint does not disappear if the complainant dies. The second is to carry out an investigation of any allegations of systemic abuse or injustice if it appears to her/him to be in the public interest and that there should be compelling circumstances.

Martin has outlined the importance of these amendments saying: “It may very well be that, in the course of the investigation of individual complaints, it will come to the attention of the ombudsman that there is a culture of abuse or bullying in a particular area. They may well feel that they would have to investigate that on their own initiative, and not await instruction, following their annual report, from the Secretary of State.”

I gave examples of the Canadian authorities arguing that we shouldn’t “reinvent the wheel”. The words ‘compelling circumstances’ were taken exactly from what the Canadians do—to give the ombudsman the power so that he or she can, in compelling circumstances take real action. I felt that we should use this example from our Canadian cousins in our aim to reassure members and former members of our Armed Forces.

Our aim was to toughen up the Bill to deal with systemic abuse in the Armed Forces. The role of the Ombudsman is not to revisit the original complaint but it is to investigate that the complaint was not properly handled. Even if we do not get the words of our amendment into legislation we hope to get words from the Minister in Hansard which will assist the new Ombudsman in defining his/her role which will be tougher than that of the current Service Complaints Commissioner created in 2006.

These amendments, put forward by the Lib Dem group in the Lords, will create a fairer system within the armed forces by empowering the Ombudsman to do more to protect our military personnel.

* Monroe Palmer (Lord Palmer of Childs Hill) is a Lib Dem peer who speaks on defence and international affairs

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One Comment

  • Stephen Donnelly 29th Jul '14 - 11:36pm

    Good post from a great ‘old school’ liberal. We have a lot to learn from his constant, reasonable, and reliable, promotion of liberal values.

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