Military 'justice' is screaming out for reform | Simon McKay

The practice of trying the military – such as Danny Nightingale – in a court martial rather than a civilian court is anachronistic

There has been a strange alignment of events over thepast week in what is referred to as, without any sense of irony, “military justice”. SAS sergeant Danny Nightingale was sentenced for the second time and with considerable reluctance to a suspended term of custody, and an application seeking to pardon “Breaker” Morant, a Boer war veteran, executed by firing squad over a century ago, will be lodged at the high court today.

Things have changed considerably in the court martial since Morant’s summary execution in 1902. The court martial centre at Bulford where sergeant Nightingale was tried, is quite unlike any ordinary court of law. It has a Zen garden for a start – perhaps for defendants to meditate on the downturn on their fortunes, or alternatively the judges on the exercise of their considerable powers, although there is no evidence that either have made much use of the resource. Nor were the reforms of the system the result of some kind of eastern enlightenment, but rather a consequence of young soldiers being prepared to take on the might of government and secure basic fair trial guarantees in the European court of human rights.

Forced progress is not the same as evolution and there has been little development of military justice since the Armed Forces Act 2006, which modernised the system in the aftermath of adverse decisions in Strasbourg. Indeed, if you were to wander into a court martial today by accident, you could be forgiven for thinking that behind one of the doors was a yard with a pole at one end and a small group of idle soldiers awaiting orders to shoot at the other. There remains pomp and ceremony to an absurd level – uniformed court staff, salutes – sentenced prisoners are even quick marched out of court at the conclusion of the proceedings.

Behind this veneer, which many may consider a fine preserve of traditional military legal process, there are concerns of substance. It is said, for example, that the board, the military equivalent of a jury, are for the purposes of deliberations, equal. Yet, when documents are handed to them this is done in rank order – a young captain with only a few years of service receiving their papers before a senior non-commissioned officer, who may have seen many years of service. The idea that an organsation built on a structure of rank and deference can abandon this by mere direction from a judge advocate is difficult to accept. A board of five members that cannot agree can find the defendant guilty by simple majority, three votes to two – an astonishing vulnerability in legal terms.

The question of summary justice is also screaming out for reform. The notion that a legally unqualified officer can make a finding of guilt against a serviceman that amounts to a criminal conviction is anachronistic. Its …read more  

British troops carry out secret mission against Taliban in Sangin

Joint operation with Afghan soldiers – revealed only after it was completed – required special permission from defence secretary

British troops have carried out a major operation in Afghanistan in an area which has seen some of the fiercest battles of the war, the Ministry of Defence has said.

About 80 British soldiers travelled to Sangin to fight Taliban insurgents with the Afghan National Army (ANA), just months before it takes full control of security in the country.

The latest mission, which was kept secret until after it was completed earlier this week, required the special permission of defence secretary Philip Hammond because of a government push to transfer combat operations to the ANA, the Sunday Times reported.

In recent months the British armed forces have instead been focusing on mentoring the ANA in preparation for their withdrawal from the country next year.

The MoD said specialist advisers from the Brigade Advisory Group, made up of the 4th Battalion The Rifles, provided support to the UK-mentored 3/215 Brigade for the eight-day mission.

It said the involvement of British troops was “in line” with their current advisory role.

“In support of the Afghan forces who now have the security lead across the country, UK personnel do on occasion operate outside the usual UK area of operations in central Helmand in an advisory capacity,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

“These out-of-area operations have been a long-standing element of the UK mission in Afghanistan and are completely in line with our current role of providing training, advice and assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces.”

The statement added that Sangin “remains a challenging area” and it is now for the Afghan forces to deal with insurgents.

During the operation, a number of insurgents were detained and killed, more than 30 improvised explosive devices were found and destroyed and two vehicles were seized along with ammunition and weapons.

There were no British casualties but a number of ANA soldiers were killed, the Sunday Times added.

Speaking after the operation, Brigadier Rupert Jones, Commander Task Force Helmand, said: “It has been a very impressive demonstration of what the Afghan National Army can be capable of.”

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions

…read more  

British troops carry out secret mission against Taliban in Sangin

Joint operation with Afghan soldiers – revealed only after it was completed – required special permission from defence secretary

British troops have carried out a major operation in Afghanistan in an area which has seen some of the fiercest battles of the war, the Ministry of Defence has said.

About 80 British soldiers travelled to Sangin to fight Taliban insurgents with the Afghan National Army (ANA), just months before it takes full control of security in the country.

The latest mission, which was kept secret until after it was completed earlier this week, required the special permission of the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, because of a government push to transfer combat operations to the ANA, the Sunday Times reported.

In recent months, British armed forces have instead been focusing on mentoring the ANA in preparation for their withdrawal from the country next year.

The MoD said specialist advisers from the Brigade Advisory Group, made up of the 4th Battalion The Rifles, provided support to the UK-mentored 3/215 Brigade for the eight-day mission.

It said the involvement of British troops was “in line” with their current advisory role. “In support of the Afghan forces who now have the security lead across the country, UK personnel do on occasion operate outside the usual UK area of operations in central Helmand in an advisory capacity,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

“These out-of-area operations have been a long-standing element of the UK mission in Afghanistan and are completely in line with our current role of providing training, advice and assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces.”

The statement added that Sangin “remains a challenging area” and it is now for the Afghan forces to deal with insurgents.

During the operation, a number of insurgents were detained and killed, more than 30 improvised explosive devices were found and destroyed and two vehicles were seized along with ammunition and weapons.

There were no British casualties but a number of ANA soldiers were killed, the Sunday Times added.

Speaking after the operation, Brigadier Rupert Jones, Commander Task Force Helmand, said: “It has been a very impressive demonstration of what the Afghan National Army can be capable of.”

theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

…read more  

Government urged to end private school subsidies for military personnel

Labour attacks ‘absolute scandal’ as MoD spends millions on school fees while making thousands of soldiers redundant

The government is facing calls to end an “absolute scandal” in which the Ministry of Defence pays private school fees for the children of serving military personnel while troops are being made redundant.

Labour said there is “no legitimate reason” why the government should prioritise subsidies for private education over frontline troops after figures showed that the MoD spent £65.8m on school fees last year while making 2,900 soldiers redundant at a cost of £158m.

The figures, released in a parliamentary written answer from the defence minister Andrew Robathan to the Labour MP Pamela Nash, show that £212m has been spent on the continuity of education allowance since 2010. The MoD paid £74m in 2010-11, £72.2m in 2011-12 and £65.8m in 2012-13. The MoD separately told the Commons defence select committee that it was making 2,900 army personnel redundant in 2012-13 at a cost of £158m.

Nash, the Labour MP for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “This seems like the completely wrong priority given the current pressures on funding at the MoD. But there is no legitimate reason why in the 21st century the MoD needs to be so heavily subsidising private education over the jobs of frontline troops.

“And it is an absolute scandal when you think that this amount of money is being spent at a time when thousands of soldiers are losing their jobs in order to supposedly save money. How many of these thousands of soldiers would these millions of pounds have kept on the frontline instead sent to the dole queue? I really hope that the Tories reconsider this spending before they plan any more reductions in the armed forces or cuts to equipment.”

In his answer to Nash, Robathan said the allowance helped to give service personnel’s children a stable education from the age of eight. The figures do not distinguish between payments made to parents who educate their children at private or maintained schools.

Robathan added: “It is worth remembering that this allowance is open to all eligible personnel, officers and other ranks.” He said about 50% of current claimants were from other ranks. Nash said this still favoured officers because they only make up 14% of the army.

The continuity of education allowance is used to pay school fees for the children of soldiers, diplomats and aid staff. In its advice to parents, the MoD says the allowance is designed to subsidise a boarding school education to “help provide continuity of education for a child and enable the spouse of a service person to accompany them on postings”. Parents are expected to contribute a minimum 10% of the school fees.

The advice says there are a number of state boarding schools “which provide excellent value for money” because they only charge for accommodation costs. But the MoD advises that most boarding schools are independent and it refers parents to the Independent Schools Council. Its <a class="colorbox" …read more  

Government urged to end private school subsidies for military personnel

Labour MP attacks ‘absolute scandal’ as MoD spends millions on school fees while making thousands of soldiers redundant

The government is facing calls to end an “absolute scandal” in which the Ministry of Defence pays private school fees for the children of serving military personnel while troops are being made redundant.

A Labour MP said there is “no legitimate reason” why the government should prioritise subsidies for private education over frontline troops after figures showed the MoD spent £65.8m on school fees last year while making 2,900 soldiers redundant at a cost of £158m.

The figures, released in a parliamentary answer from defence minister Andrew Robathan to Labour MP Pamela Nash, show that £212m has been spent on the continuity of education allowance since 2010. The MoD separately told the Commons defence select committee it was making 2,900 army personnel redundant in 2012-13 at a cost of £158m.

Nash, MP for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “This seems like the completely wrong priority given the current pressures on funding at the MoD. But there is no legitimate reason why in the 21st century the MoD needs to be so heavily subsidising private education over the jobs of frontline troops.

“It is an absolute scandal when you think that this amount of money is being spent at a time when thousands of soldiers are losing their jobs. How many of these thousands of soldiers would these millions of pounds have kept on the frontline instead sent to the dole queue? ” In his answer to Nash, Robathan said the allowance helped to give service personnel’s children a stable education from the age of eight. The figures do not distinguish between payments made to parents who educate their children at private or maintained schools.He added: “It is worth remembering that this allowance is open to all eligible personnel, officers and other ranks.” He said about 50% of claimants were from other ranks. Nash said this still favoured officers because officersthey only make up 14% of the army.The MoD says the allowance is designed to subsidise a boarding school education to “help provide continuity of education for a child and enable the spouse of a service person to accompany them on postings”. Parents are expected to contribute a minimum 10% of the school fees.

The continuity of education allowance is used to pay school fees for the children of soldiers diplomats and aid staff.he MoD says the allowance is designed to subsidise a boarding school education to “help provide continuity of education for a child and enable the spouse of a service person to accompany them on postings”. Parents are expected to contribute a minimum 10% of the school fees.

theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | …read more