The UK government spent more than £750,000 on lawyers’ fees trying to deny responsibility for the deaths of soldiers killed in lightly armoured , a freedom of information request has revealed.
The massive bill was run up on behalf of the at a time when legal aid to claimants has suffered deep cuts. The department was ultimately unsuccessful in supporting it did not have a duty of care to those killed using the vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The revelation will reinforce accusations that ministers are prepared to exploit taxpayers’ funds to obtain a legal advantage in court while claimants are often left to rely on lawyers working pro bono.
Snatch Land Rovers, nicknamed “mobile coffins”, were developed to transport troops in Northern Ireland. They were subsequently deployed in the Afghan and Iraq conflicts. Last year the Chilcot inquiry in the preparation for the Iraq war, including a delay in replacing the vehicles, which were vulnerable to bombs.
Families whose sons and daughters died in Snatch Land Rovers brought compensation claims against the government under legislation covering negligence and human rights. In 2013,the supreme court found that, based on human rights legislation, .
The MoD is planning to introduce a compensation scheme that will do away with the need to prove negligence and divert cases away from the courts. It claims that it will produce; the proposal has caused who have campaigned to reveal flaws in army equipment. The department is also planning to in future wars.
The legal costs for the Snatch Land Rover cases were obtained through a freedom of information request to the government’s legal department by a campaigner, Omran Belhadi. It shows that total legal costs to the government for Snatch Land Rover cases to date are £765,731, of which £321,354 was for in-house lawyers and charges, and £444,376 was for “external disbursements” – mainly barristers fees.
Of that total sum, £169,519 was spent on government lawyers and barristers at the supreme court case where the . Her son, Pte Phillip Hewett, 21, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, died in July 2005 after the Snatch Land Rover he was travelling in was blown up in Amara, south-east .
Belhadi said: “This was a staggering waste of taxpayers’ money. Thanks to the courage of the bereaved families – and reliance on the Human Rights Act – the government was compelled to do what is right and apologise. It is a disgrace that it took 12 years to get here.
“These cases highlight how much we need the . Justice could not be achieved without it. Any plans to repeal the Act must be permanently abandoned.”
Hilary Meredith, a solicitor and visiting professor of law and veterans’ affairs at Chester University, said: “This is a huge amount and compounds the David and Goliath plight of those parents fighting for the rights of their sons and daughters killed in these vehicles dubbed the mobile coffins.
“Legal aid is not available to them and they have to find lawyers to either act pro bono or on a no-win no-fee basis. What is even more ironic is that the MoD didn’t fight this case because they believed the Snatch Land Rover was the right vehicle for the job, they fought it to try and wriggle out of any duty of care owed to those who fight on the front line when sent with inadequate or faulty equipment.”
The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, is opposing the MoD’s new compensation scheme.
Commenting on the legal costs, an MoD spokesperson said: “The defence secretary directed that cases related to Snatch Land Rovers should be settled, ending prolonged legal battles. Our plans for better compensation would mean that money spent on lawyers would instead go on higher compensation for armed forces personnel and their families. The proposals would offer more generous compensation, paid at a rate a court would likely award if it found in the claimant’s favour.”
The MoD believes its proposed compensation scheme would avoid lengthy and expensive court cases for those who bring claims in the future.