We should protect those who protect us

Disgraced solicitor Phil Shiner outside the High Court
Disgraced solicitor Phil Shiner outside the High Court
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HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By local MP John Hayes

Defending the realm is the first duty of the Government, and our armed forces protect our country at home and abroad by guaranteeing the safety we often take for granted, day in day out. Britons are rightly proud of our military history and traditions, and revere the bravery and professionalism of our servicemen. Given all this, it’s sorrowful and infuriating that unscrupulous lawyers have made money from pursuing vexatious claims of misconduct against our veterans. There have always been occasional cases of wrongdoing in the army – and the military are clear that those whose behaviour falls short of high standards should pay the price – but what’s happened in recent years, with the creation of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), is something altogether different.

Set up in 2010 to investigate alleged abuses carried out on Iraqi citizens by British forces, IHAT was expected to be short lived, involving a handful of incidents. Seven years later, thousands of cases have been investigated without a single conviction.

Worse still is the revelation that most of these claims were taken up without a scrap of meaningful evidence, and with just two law firms generating the vast majority of cases. Soldiers who make difficult decisions – under extreme pressure and in battlefield conditions – which civilians can barely comprehend, have been harassed by unscrupulous lawyers determined to exploit human rights laws.

Recently, the Commons Defence Committee reported on the worst of these offenders – the incongruously named ‘Public Interest Lawyers’ which brought two-thirds of the cases and even resorted to trawling Iraq looking for people willing to invent charges against our troops. Thankfully, the firm has closed, its disgraced human rights lawyer Phil Shiner has been struck off, and now the Government has announced the closure of IHAT – and not a day too soon.

This whole sorry process has cost the British taxpayer an estimated £60 million, but the human cost to soldiers and their families is greater still. Servicemen have had their reputations tarnished and their careers ruined over inquiries that have gone nowhere. It is yet another 
example of the corrosive effect of the ‘rights culture’ which confuses fairness with self-interest.

It’s time this “lawfare”, conducted by a politically-motivated, greedy human rights industry, is brought to account. We need no more ambulance-chasing lawyers and no more spurious investigations in which more credence is given to the accusers than to our brave armed forces. It’s time we properly protect those who protect all of us.