The Supreme Court Mothballs the British Army

19 June 2013

The British Army may never go to war again. Not because it is under-resourced and over-stretched but because, as of today, it may no longer be able to afford casualties. That, at any rate, is one thought prompted by the Supreme Court’s extraordinary – to my mind – ruling that dead soldiers’ families can sue the ministry of Defence for damages.

According to the Supreme Court justices, the MoD may have been negligent in its “duty of care” and, consequently, the families may sue the government for failing, apparently, to safeguard the human rights of soldiers killed in Iraq (and, presumably, elsewhere).

The court dismissed the MoD’s suggestion there might sensibly be “battlefield immunity”. I cannot for the life of me understand why. (The whole judgement can be read here.)

Soldiering is a dangerous business. That was once thought a point so obvious it did not need to be made. Wars generally involve death. Fewer deaths, mind you, these days than in the past – suggesting, if you must couch these things in these terms, that the MoD does a better job of protecting its employees’ “human rights” than ever before – but, ye gods, it is not possible to eliminate risk from warfare. People will die. That’s rather the point.

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According to one widow, however:

“We want combat immunity thrown out of the rulebook, so instead of soldiers having to sue the Ministry of Defence, the equipment and the training will be in place to stop things like this happening again.”

Really? That’s simply impossible. Equipment and training can never be perfect. Risk cannot be avoided. Mistakes happen. Deaths are unavoidable. But in the view of the mother of one dead soldier this verdict means:

“They can no longer treat soldiers as sub-human with no rights,”

You need to be pretty iron-hearted not to feel some sympathy for the relatives of soldiers killed in action but the whining notion soldiers at war should be protected by some kind of military health and safety code is, in the end, utterly preposterous.

As for a “duty of care”, a reasonable person might conclude that the vast expense of military training and equipment demonstrates that this is something the MoD takes extremely seriously. It is not in the business, these days, of throwing soldiers into the fray under-equipped and under-trained. Indeed, you can make a decent case that the army these days is too cautious, too risk-averse, too mindful of the cost of boys going home in body bags and that this hampers its operational effectiveness. At the very least, however, this also demonstrates the MoD’s awareness that soldiers are precious, expensive and not to be wasted.

No-one is forced to join the British army. No-one can sensibly say they aren’t warned about the risks of military life. It is part of the bargain you make and there is something unseemly, even grasping, about these attempts to suggest otherwise.

Sometimes equipment will prove inadequate. That’s the problem with war; the enemy are allowed to fight too. Pretending – as this ruling appears to do – that war is just another job subject to the usual kinds of employment laws and responsibilities is, on the face of it, an absurdity.

Just as well, obviously, that these attitudes did not apply in the past when casualty rates were many times higher than they are in modern conflicts. I can’t imagine the families of many of those killed during the Second World War would be altogether impressed with the attitudes on parade at the Supreme Court today.

What next? Suing some subaltern because he made a battlefield decision that, even if operationally sound and successful (not that this should matter), unavoidably led to the deaths of troops under his command? Madness.

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Show comments
  • The_greyhound

    It’s only a matter of time before these ludicrous tossers order the RAF to pay the Germans for the damage done to the Luftwaffe in WW2.

  • Treebrain

    “The British Army may never go to war again.”

    Excellent news, after all the venture in Afghanistan did not turn out well despite all the blood and treasure spent!

  • perdix

    How much is the enthusiasm of fee-hungry lawyers pushing these cases?

  • Drakken

    So this is how western civilization dies, one law suit at a time.

  • Iain Hill

    This is the best news for years, and may simply put an end to wars of choice. It would be good to add that 3 or 4 members (short straw?) of any cabinet voting for such wars should spend six months in the front line, thus experiencing directly what they so heedlessly condemn others to suffer.

    • roger

      They key phrase ‘ Wars of choice’.
      In a true existential war the population is willing to fight with whatever to defeat an invader, The British Home Guard and particularly the Auxiliary Units were the best example , after the politicians had pissed away the main army in Norway and Belgium.

  • The Wiganer

    They’ve only won the right to start a case; they haven’t won the case and they shouldn’t. For two reasons:
    1. If the enemy know that finding a way past your defenses will result in you shutting down operations until you’ve 100% covered the problem, then you’ve lost.
    2. The standard military tactic since time began is the feint. Launching a fake move in order to draw your enemy out. This requires to to put your own soldiers in harms way. If you can’t do that, you’ve lost.

  • global city

    The main reason for the march through the institutions is so that the elite of the culturaal Marxists can tie the hands of the elite old guard.

    They are convinced that western society is an evil in the world, and if it is dismantled and made so it cannot defend itself, intellectually or militarily then all the better.

    This decision is a victory for those who would see the death of the evil West.

  • David Lindsay

    That’s the Syria question answered, then.

    Jolly good.

  • Blorgh

    I took up Massie’s challenge and read through some of the court ruling. I really wanted to find where he had gone wrong in his argument, because I was convinced the court could not be so naive. There surely must have been some technicality involved.

    Sorry, Massie. You were right and I was wrong. The court is bonkers.

  • Druth

    Human rights war-mongering:

    For vain ideological reasons they start unwinnable wars, without consent, without proper aims or planned outcomes, in places no-one has heard of, for reasons which no one understands or has any commitment to.

    They then tell the military to go out and make friends with the enemy, to try and engage the locals in various hearts and mind campaigns and do various other tick box soldiering but without actually killing anyone.

    After years of getting nowhere they ‘heroically surrender’, on their own terms, and then try and put the blame back onto the military.

    Syria anyone?

    • Blorgh

      “Human rights war-mongering” – Spot on. I’ll have to remember that.

    • Colin

      Our soldiers may now be afforded the same legal rights as the enemy. What’s wrong with that? A level playing (battle) field, so to speak. As soon as our human rights industry conspired to allow terrorists and other assorted enemy savages the legal right to sue, it was inevitable this would happen.

      What, with our various wars either ended or drawing to a close, how will the likes of Phil Shyster earn a crust; if trawling foreign battlefields for enemy combatants with hurt feelings is no longer an option? Wounded / dead Toms and their families must look to him and his ilk like manna from heaven.

  • LB

    You miss the point.

    Yes its dangerous.

    However, if you send people to war with equipment you know to be faulty, you can be sued.

    Notice the key point, You know the equipment is faulty, and people die as a result. It’s negligence.

    • gerontius

      Yes but it may be the only equipment available, so that’s what you fight with.
      Perhaps the enemy should be asked to postpone battle until we are ready. Pity we didn’t think of that in 1939.

      • JPJ2

        The Hitler war is that very rare event which was unavoidable (once the foolish World War One scapegoating of Germany was carried out).
        It is used by people to justify other, often readily avoidable, wars.
        Time politicians were forced into the frontlines-there would be damn few nonsenses like Iraq then!

        • terregles2

          We should force our politicians to go and fight and also insist that they take their sons and daughters to fight along side them.
          Seems like a perfect recipe for peace.

      • terregles2

        In 1939 we were under threat of invasion . What are we sending our young people to die for now?

      • roger

        Actually we weren’t threatened until 1940, the war declaration in 1939 was a political statement followed by some bonkers acts like attacking in Norway and Belgium, so the Battle for Britain was fought with depleted forces.

    • The Wiganer

      The equipment was not faulty, it was just not bomb proof.

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