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MPs vote to let armed forces continue running own trials for rape and murder

Houses of Parliament

MPs vote to let armed forces continue running own trials for rape and murder

The majority of MPs have backed the government in rejecting calls for all murder and rape cases to be tried in civilian courts.

MPs voted this evening by 355 votes to 272 against an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill that would have prevented military courts from trying cases of murder, manslaughter, rape, child abuse and domestic violence.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) said that the armed forces were effectively allowed to operate outside the law, given that they are the only institution allowed to run their own criminal trials.

The amendment was supported by most opposition MPs but opposed by the government. One of the MPs proposing the amendment, Martin Docherty-Hughes of the Scottish National Party, said during the debate that the military justice system needed a thorough overhaul.

The PPU said they were deeply disappointed that MPs had rejected even a partial reduction in the power of the armed forces to police themselves.

In a society where it is still considered taboo to criticise the armed forces, we cannot expect those institutions to handle these complaints properly,” said PPU member and writer Jess Amy Dixon, who is studying the #MeToo movement for a PhD. “To allow the armed forces to essentially police themselves is to throw survivors under the bus in the name of protecting the public perception of the forces.”

Last year three British women launched legal action in an attempt to stop sexual violence cases being tried in military courts, pointing out that conviction rates are six times lower than the already low rates in civilian courts.

Earlier today, MPs were urged to pass the amendment by Des James, whose 18-year-old daughter Cheryl James died of an unexplained gunshot wound while in the army at Deepcut in 1995. “We would have been spared decades of pain and uncertainty if there had been a requirement in law that civilian police should handle the investigation into my daughter's death," he wrote.

Des James said that the same issues apply in cases of sexual offences. He explained, “We know that very serious sexual offences took place there but were never investigated properly by the military police, something that lots of service women still say happens today.”

In 2018, a military trial that involved army instructors accused of mistreating 16-year-old recruits collapsed because the military police had made no arrests until two years after receiving dozens of allegations.

MPs also voted this evening against an amendment to ensure a basic standard of housing for military personnel. The PPU said this illustrated the hypocrisy of government talk of "respect" for people in the armed forces.

Earlier in the day, a wide range of non-governmental organisations called for the minimum enlistment age in the British military to be raised to 18. The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit 16-year-olds to the armed forces.

Today's debate in the House of Commons came ahead of Armed Forces Day on Saturday, described by the PPU as an example of everyday militarism.


What's wrong with Armed Forces Day? Read the Peace Pledge Union's briefing.