‘No license to kill’: Military should not be exempt from corporate manslaughter

© Phil Noble
Ministry of Defense (MoD) officials should face the same threat of criminal prosecution for corporate manslaughter as staff in any other UK workplace, Britain’s Defense Select Committee has said.

The committee of MPs, which oversees MoD operations and the work of associated bodies such as the armed forces, made the recommendation in a report published Monday.

The study called for the MoD’s blanket immunity from corporate manslaughter – extended in the form of a “crown censure” – to be lifted.

“The lives of serving personnel are worth no less than those of civilians and those responsible for their deaths must be equally liable under the law,” the committee said.

Blanket immunity 

The MoD currently has crown immunity if one of its staff dies in the so-called line of duty. This is facilitated by a special exemption from corporate manslaughter law in Britain. Britain’s Defense Select Committee says the situation requires prompt reform.

Since the turn of the millennium, some 135 MoD staff have died while in training. Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had to bring in a crown censure in eleven of these cases.

While the penalty would have resulted in heavy fines or jail sentences for ordinary employers in the private sector, it amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist for the MoD.

In 2013, the department was sharply criticized over the death of three men who were on a Special Air Service (SAS) selection course in south Wales. In the absence of a crown censure, the MoD would have faced prosecution over these deaths because an inquest ruled the men were neglected on a 16-mile trek. However, the government body was never held accountable.

‘Macho culture’ 

The father of one of the SAS trainees who died in Wales, David Dunsby, said a macho culture within the UK military departments is problematic.

“I still think there’s a macho culture. They want to keep pushing these men and that’s fair enough,” he told Sky News.

“They’ve got to be pushed, but how far do you want to push training? You can push it to the limits but the MoD doesn’t have a license to kill.”

Ex-Major-General Jonathan Shaw, who served the MoD for more than three decades, says changing Britain’s law would dumb down training.

“The more restrictions in place on people, the more hurdles you make them go through before they undergo training,” he told Sky News.

“That means training will be less difficult, less demanding and less risky, so people will be less prepared when they go into conflict.”

The MoD maintains the safety of its staff is an unshakeable priority.

“The safety of our personnel is an absolute priority and, while each death is tragic, deaths in training are rare,” a spokesperson for the government department said.

“We are grateful for the committee’s acknowledgement of how seriously we take the risks associated with training and that we are moving in the right direction.

“We acknowledge that more needs to be done, which is why we set up the Defence Safety Authority last year. We will now carefully consider this report and respond in due course.”