MoD 'should be prosecuted' over forces training deaths
The Ministry of Defence should be liable for prosecution for the deaths of armed forces personnel killed during training, MPs have said.
The Commons Defence Committee said it is wrong the MoD should enjoy exemption from corporate manslaughter laws in relation to training exercises.
"This must change," the committee said. "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 found that since the start of 2000, 135 personnel have died while on training and exercises - 89 from the Army, 24 from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and 22 from the RAF.
In 11 cases, the Health and Safety Executive issued a Crown Censure - the highest penalty it can impose on the MoD.
The committee said the Government should now amend the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 so the MoD can be prosecuted in such cases where there has been a Crown Censure.
The blanket exemption covering the activities of Special Forces should also be lifted where there has been "gross neglect", it said.
"We believe this strikes the correct balance between ensuring the armed forces are able to train effectively but at the same time be corporately accountable for failings in the supervision of training, exercises and selection events," it said.
The report comes after an inquest last year into the deaths of three reservists during an SAS selection exercise in the Brecon Beacons found there had been a "catalogue of very serious mistakes".
Among the committee's findings is a recommendation that the "different circumstances" of reservists compared to full-time regular personnel should taken into account in the design and delivery of military training.
The committee stressed that the MoD's exemption from corporate manslaughter should continue to apply to military operations.
However it said that they needed to do more to reduce the numbers of personnel killed and seriously injured during training.
The committee noted there had been no civilian prosecutions against individuals in relation to training and exercises, while since the establishment of the Service Prosecuting Authority in 2010, it had brought just seven cases.
It warned there was a public perception that the forces did not take their duty of care responsibilities seriously enough and it called on the MoD to examine whether Service Law was "fit for purpose" in holding individuals to account.
"While we have found no systemic failings, the MoD has not always got the correct balance between adequate training and reducing risk, resulting in life-changing injuries and deaths in training and selection events," it said.
"We believe the MoD and the armed forces take their 'duty of care' responsibilities seriously. However, some members of the public do not.
"The MoD must take appropriate action to change this perception and reassure the public. Not to do so will continue to undermine confidence in the armed forces."
Madeleine Moon, the chairman of the sub-committee which carried out the inquiry, said: "While it is important that the MoD and the armed services are accountable for all accidents and fatalities it is equally important that they are publicly seen to be so.
"The families and friends of those who have died whilst on training and selection events need to have confidence that that lessons have been learned for the future."
An MoD spokesperson said: "The safety of our personnel is an absolute priority and, while each death is tragic, deaths in training are rare. 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."