I was pleased last week to secure a debate in Parliament on the development of something that has become known as “lawfare”. Over ten years after the end of operations in Iraq, British lawyers are trawling places like Basra finding people they can convince are “victims” and seeking to get them large sums in compensation. They do this by no-win-no-fee schemes or by using our taxes in legal aid.
No one admires the Armed Forces more than I but I concede that, like all of us, they sometimes fail. I believe we need to have strong sanctions against those who do. But it really has got absurd. There is a Government body called the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) that was set up in 2010 to do a two year job of dealing with outstanding cases. Nearly six years later it has had its remit extended until 2019. This is to cope with a tsunami of claims coming from two legal firms, Leigh Day and Public Interest Lawyers. If the over 1500 cases under investigation were exposing an institutionalised war crimes culture embedded in our Armed Forces, I would go along with it. But it has found the opposite. To make the situation worse, the behaviour of some of the lawyers concerned has been despicable.
Meanwhile veterans are being visited by detectives, interviewed under caution and told that they may face criminal charges. All but a tiny percentage of investigations are dropped. In one case a judge criticised the legal firms and their clients for systematic lying and the withholding of evidence that could have cleared veterans sooner.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister is on the case. He wants a ban on any non-British resident claiming legal aid and an end to no-win-no-fee schemes. He also wants the Government to sue firms who are found to have acted improperly. I want to go further. I want a time limit on claims and for future conflicts to remove our Armed Forces from the European Convention on Human Rights. There are many measures we can bring against troops that break the rules of law but human rights legislation does not work for anyone except ambulance chasing lawyers.