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MPs urged to change the law on military trials for sexual abuse

Houses of Parliament

MPs urged to change the law on military trials for sexual abuse

MPs have been urged to stop 'faffing about' and change the law so that all rape and sexual abuse cases are tried in civilian courts.

The armed forces are the only insitutions in the UK allowed to conduct their own criminal trials. There is growing pressure for this to change so that the military are not allowed to police themselves.

MPs on the Defence Select Committee have issued a report arguing that sexual abuse and rape cases should not be tried in military courts. The Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain's leading pacifist group, welcomed the report but said that words would mean little if MPs continue to drag their feet on the issue. The government last month rejected an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill that would have introduced the change that the committee is now calling for.

64% of female veterans say they experienced harassment, bullying or discrimination, according to the committee’s report. The complaints process is so flawed that 89% of women experiencing such behaviour did not even make a complaint.

The PPU said that the armed forces are treated as being above the law, as they are the only organisations allowed to run their own criminal trials. They added that the latest revelations make it even more important that the armed forces are not placed beyond scrutiny but are held to account.

“All the available data shows that sexual violence is rife within the armed forces," said Jess Amy Dixon, a writer and PPU member who is researching a PhD on the #MeToo movement. "To try these cases in military courts is absurd - members of the forces are not above the same laws as the rest of us and these cases should be tried in the same way."

She continued, "As an advocate against sexual violence, I'm obviously pleased to see this report backed by MPs, though I wish they had backed the change when given the opportunity to vote on it recently."

The PPU warned that military leaders tend to resist any reduction in the power of the armed forces. They called on MPs not to allow military leaders to set the agenda.

The PPU believes that the consistent failure to hold the armed forces to account is an example of everyday militarism.

"To allow the military to continue to run their own criminal trials is to put them above the law and is an insult to the victims and survivors of sexual abuse and other crimes," said PPU Campaigns Manager Symon Hill. "After years of discussion, MPs need to stop faffing about and get on with changing the law."


Ten points on military spending and recruitment: read more on the Peace Pledge Union's view.