Examination of Witnesses (Questions 940
TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001 (Morning sitting)
940. In circumstances where someone is not repatriated
and they might be, I suppose, in Gibraltar or somewhere else,
what would happen then?
(Mr Miller) Non-repatriation would be very rare. Frankly,
and we put this in the note, because over the years one has tended
to be a bit cautious about absolute statements, and I can conceive
of circumstances in which one would not want to repatriate an
individual, it would have to be in circumstances and locations
where there were sufficient Naval officers to be able to hold
a court, we would have to be able to provide for the defence and
so forth. The view in the Navy, certainly, is that while there
is a theoretical possibility it is very unlikely to arise with
our current deployment pattern.
941. I suppose there are circumstances where
it might be possible to establish a video link which could address
(Mr Miller) Yes, the Army is looking at the possibility
of video links with overseas. We are not having an altogether
easy passage with the legal profession, and I would guess that
there are issues of cost involved in that from the point of view
of a legal practice.
942. You may be surprised to hear that I was
converted to the use of video links following my difficulties
with it in the Armed Forces Discipline Bill last year, and having
been in Cyprus with the Committee last week to see the video links
in operation and seen the link from Cyprus to Trenchard Lines
I was convinced of the virtues of the system. I thought it was
quite impressive. I wonder if you could help me with one problem
I still have. I have genuinely sought to find a way round it.
We were told that it is not possible for a variety of reasons
to have video links with the Balkans, with for instance Kosovo
or Bosnia, and the answer I got down the video link from Trenchard
Lines was that, of course, there are no prison facilities in Kosovo,
so anyone in those circumstances would be repatriated for trial.
That sounds fine, but I asked in a Parliamentary Question how
many people had been repatriated and I was told the information
was not collected and not available. It does surprise me if we
are told that yes, it happens, clearly in Kosovo and Bosnia there
are occasions when someone who might not actually be a defendant
but might be a witness and would be required to give evidence,
and we are told on the one hand "There is no video link"
and, on the other hand, "We do not know how many people are
involved in this". I find that extraordinary, and yet there
it was in black and white in a Parliamentary Answer. I wonder
if you could just help, because it is something I would like to
get to the bottom of.
(Mr Miller) We do not have centrally collected figures
on this, and certainly my understanding is that the command, equally,
does not hold a historical record. I think this is one of these
cases where we would be relying on the perception of the staff
officers concerned; if they became aware of a significant number
of cases involving repatriation, then clearly the need for a video
link would have to be reopened.
(Brigadier Cottam) Can I help, Madam Chairman. I think
the issue of the practicality of the video link is one thing.
We are definitely looking at the extension of the video link system,
for the reasons I think your Committee is now increasingly aware
of. I think with regard to statistics, one of the reasons for
establishing the Office for Standards of Casework in the Army
is that we want to improve our visibility of the administration
of cases. The example that Mr Key has mentioned is but one example,
at the moment, of the sort of frustrations that we have experienced
without that Office of Standards of Casework in place. It will
be in place formally from 1 April, it is already working now and
I would be very confident that one of the areas we will undoubtedly
look atand I will indeed take a note back to my colleague
the Directoris the administration of casework for soldiers
in the Balkans.
Mr Key: Thank you, Chairman. I think
that is very important because there are implications not only
for the cost of repatriating people from the Balkans to this countryeither
as defendants or as witnessesbut also the disruption to
the life of the units in Bosnia, because inevitably it means that
they are going to be losing people who may be key personnel for
at least a week, in terms of the flights available, to move them
about. So, again, I express some surprise that we do not know
how many people are involved in this. I would not wish to make
the Ministry of Defence a slave to statistics, but it might be
helpful from everybody's point of view if the Office for Standards
of Casework could have a look at that.
943. Following on from Mr Key's point, we did
see and experience ourselves transport difficulties in the Balkans;
our flight was diverted from Pristina to Skopje, so we did see
ourselves some of the problems. It does seem strange to me that
given the number of troops we have there, and given the fact that
we all of us accept they are going to be there for some time,
progress has not been made in establishing a video linkand,
also, concerning detention, and where soldiers can be put. I think
there is a detention aspect to this problem and also the ISDN
lines do not exist at the moment. I would have thought that given
the number of troops and the length of time they are likely to
be there, that would be a very decent investment, because it is
quite clear to us there is the cost element of disruption, as
Mr Key has suggested.
(Mr Miller) I know, not from this particular problem
but other problems, that one of the issues involved is the infrastructure
to support telecommunications. I think it is probably also worth
making the point that the nature of the deployment out there with
very little time allowed out of barracks means that, on the whole,
servicemen do not get themselves into serious trouble, so that
in itself is a factor which tends to result in relatively low
rates of courts-martial.
944. You mentioned some legal problems that
there might be in terms of giving evidence over the video links.
Can you elaborate on what those are? Have there been objections
from lawyers to using them?
(Mr Miller) There were fears, I think, about whether
evidence given in this way would be acceptable, but I must confess
that this has not been a point in any of the trials so far. This
is something we can probably live with.
(Brigadier Cottam) I think one of the concerns, if
I may, Madam Chairman, was the distinction between legal advice
that was very easily given on video link as opposed to evidence
being given to a court over video. I think that was the area of
concern rather than the use of a video link per se.
945. It is really only on a practical point:
on repatriation, would the person being repatriated be escorted
or would it be a matter of the severity of the individual charge
or whatever? Is there a specified code on this?
(Mr Miller) Frankly, I would have thought if there
was any significant possibility of the individual absconding,
yes, he would be escorted.
946. So the costs could be
(Mr Miller) The costs of repatriation could be quite
high. Equally, of course, the costs of holding a Court Martial
abroad could be quite high, if you have to ship a large number
of the Court Martial members and the legal support in to do it.
947. Just to clarify one other point for me:
we know there is not a video link with the Kosovo theatre. Is
there one with Bosnia?
(Mr Miller) No, I am afraid we do not know.
948. Therefore, Courts Martial are not being
held in Bosnia.
(Brigadier Cottam) They have been in the past, as
indeed they have in the Gulf prior to the introduction of video.
949. If there was a Court Martial in Bosnia
and they wanted witnesses from the United Kingdom, or anything
like that, they would have to be flown in to Bosnia.
(Mr Miller) Yes.
950. Moving on to Service legal officers, you
will be aware, Mr Miller, that in the evidence we have heard we
certainly gained the impression that sometimes Service personnel
doubt theshall we sayobjectivity of the Service
legal officers. There was not, in the evidence we heard, any evidence
to suggest that that was the case, but it was the issue of perception.
I am interested in whether you think anything further could be
done to persuade Service personnel that Service legal officers
do provide genuinely independent legal advice, and that they are
not an integral part of the chain of command.
(Mr Miller) I think, Madam Chairman, that it probably
has to depend on the Service lawyers being seen by their clients,
if I can put it that way, to be doing a good and thoroughly professional
job. Franklyhow can I put itpropaganda by the Ministry
of Defence on the subject would probably be counter-productive.
951. That is a very good point. It is the legal
personnel themselves who need to try and persuade us.
(Mr Miller) It is a statement of the obvious, but
these are professional barristers and solicitors and they are,
of course, working to the standards laid down by their respective
952. I would accept that absolutely, but I would
ask you has there ever been any formal assessment conducted by
the MoD into the level of satisfaction that people would want
to state? People will state objectively on a questionnaire how
and in what way they feel they have been treated and have been
represented. Has there actually been any formal assessment?
(Mr Miller) Not to my knowledge, no. It is certainly
something we might consider.
953. Could I ask whether you think there would
be a difference between the Services on the level of satisfaction?
Would they be the same in the Navy, for example?
(Mr Miller) I cannot see any particular reason for
the difference. Of course, the Naval structure is different in
that it is not a separate legal service. I have worked with the
Navy quite recently, and I simply was not conscious of even any
general level of dissatisfaction with their lawyers, never mind
a greater level.
(Brigadier Cottam) Madam Chairman, of course in Germany
it is, if you like, a soldier's satisfaction with the lawyers
provided by the Royal Air Force and vice-versa that would be in
question because we do use them opposite, face about, in order
to emphasise the degree of fairness. Certainly we have seen no
examples of dissatisfaction inter-service in that respect.
954. Which is why the Navy might be different.
(Mr Miller) Yes. Again, it is very difficult to produce
anything other than anecdotal evidence but I certainly knew of
cases where legally trained Naval officers not actually serving
in a legal appointment had clearly provided advice in support
of individuals who were faced with a Court Martial or, indeed,
in connection with complaints. Certainly from the perception of
the office dealing with this, there is no feeling anywhere that
that advice was anything other than very much oriented towards
the individual's interests.
955. Service legal advice is available to Service
personnel in the United Kingdom as well as abroad?
(Mr Miller) Yes.
Chairman: Thank you for that. The next
issue is Absence Without Leave.
956. Gentlemen, there have been a number of
well-publicised cases recently of soldiers going AWOL for various
reasons. Can you just explain what legal advice is available to
soldiers who are detained for being AWOL either by Service police
or civilian police?
(Mr Miller) As I understand it, the normal practice
is for the serviceman in question to be returned to his unit.
At that point he would be entitled to exactly the same representation
as any other serviceman facing a disciplinary inquiry; that is
legal support in the course of the interviews and, if he is charged,
during the trial.
957. Even though it is a disciplinary matter,
not a crime, he is still entitled to the same degree?
(Mr Miller) Yes.
958. Is there a distinction at all if that service
person is under the age of 18?
(Mr Miller) No, that would make no difference at all.
In terms of the representation, it might affect the view that
was taken of the offence.
959. Generally, on absence without leave, does
the Army or the Air Force keep statistics as to whether more service
people now are going absent without leave than they used to? Is
there a growth in that area, would you say?
(Brigadier Cottam) I think, Madam Chairman, we do
not keep statistics as such but we obviously do reviewand,
indeed, at the moment are reviewingwhere we are, in the
case of the Army, on our policy in response to absence without
leave. I think we are doing that out of a duty of care rather
than concern that it is a growing area, but we are looking at
that in terms of a thorough review of how we should handle the
process of absence. That review was already in place prior to
these rather public cases that have been referred to by the Member
of your Committee.