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Government defeat as peers back calls for military rape cases in civilian courts

The calls are for serious offences involving military personnel, such as murder and rape, to be tried in civilian courts.

Anonymous Royal Navy recruits hands CREDIT ROYAL NAVY
Picture: Royal Navy.

Peers have again inflicted a defeat on the Government in backing calls for serious offences involving military personnel, such as murder and rape, to be tried in civilian courts.

The House of Lords backed by 205 votes to 183, majority 22, an amendment that would ensure that the most serious charges against military serving personnel, including murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse and rape, are heard in civilian rather than military courts.

A previous attempt by peers was rejected by MPs on Monday and the Armed Forces Bill now returns to the Commons for another round of ping-pong.

Proposing the change to the Bill, Liberal Democrat Lord Thomas of Gresford said: "Imagine the difficulty of a junior service woman or man in making a complaint of rape to her or his commanding officer, particularly if the alleged offender is senior to her in the chain of command as it is often the case.

"In addition to all stresses and strains that already dissuade many women from complaining in civilian life, she as a service woman, has to face the effect on her career and the appearance before a board of senior officers.

"The chances of a conviction are very low, and the possibility that in the event of an acquittal, the terms of her service will keep her in contact with her attacker."

He added: "At least in a civilian court, the jury to whom she would give her sensitive and difficult evidence are 12 anonymous people drawn from the public. They will have no effect upon her career."

Opposing the proposed legislative change, defence minister Baroness Goldie told peers that in the last 20 years the Service Justice System "has gone through many changes and transformed for the better as a result of them".

She said: "There have been numerous reviews and inquiries, some as a consequence of operations but all of which have enabled the Service Justice System to develop and improve. It is no longer recognisable as a system existing 10 to 15 years ago.

"Service police, prosecutors and judiciary are fully independent of trade. They are skilled and have the experience to deal with all offending to the same standard as their counterparts in the civilian criminal justice system."

The Government went on to suffer another defeat, with peers backing by 215 by 173, majority 42, former chief of defence staff Lord Craig of Radley’s amendment, which would force the Secretary of State to lay a report before each House of Parliament, no later than six months after the Armed Forces Act is passed, detailing the implications of not applying the same legal responsibility to have "due regard under the Armed Forces Covenant to central government as the Act requires of local authorities and other public bodies".

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