MoD applies to strike out Snatch Land Rover claims
Press release: Saturday 9th May 2011
Ministry of Defence applies to strike out Snatch Land Rover
A 3 Day hearing from Monday 9 May 2011 - Wednesday 11 May
Court 15 of the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand
Jocelyn Cockburn, a partner in the civil liberties team at Hodge Jones &
Allen LLP represents families of three soldiers killed in
Snatch Land Rovers in Iraq. On Monday the MoD will attempt to
persuade the Court to strike out their claims for
Susan Smith, Colin Redpath, Karla and Courtney
Ellis are bringing claims against the MoD for causing their loved
ones to carry out high risk activities, such as patrolling, in
poorly armoured Snatch Land Rovers. In each case they were
killed when their vehicle was struck by improvised explosive
devices (IEDs), also known as roadside bombs. These are the first
claims to challenge the vulnerability of Snatch. If the MoD
succeeds the families’ claims will fail.
The MoD’s strike out application
The MoD is applying to the Court to strike out the Snatch claims
(so the families will have no legal remedy). It therefore has
to persuade the Court that “the statement of case discloses no
reasonable grounds for bringing a claim”. It is also inviting
the Court to find that the Claimants have “no real prospects of
succeeding” on the claim or an issue of it. The points under
challenge can be summarised as:
1. Jurisidiction of the Human
Rights Act (HRA)
The MoD is arguing that as the deaths of the
Snatch victims occurred outside the UK and off base the HRA does
not apply at all and therefore the MoD does not owe any human
rights protections under the Act to soldiers on the
battlefield. Consequently the MoD says that there is no
legally enforceable duty and accepts that there is no legal redress
for soldiers sent out with faulty or inadequate equipment or
deficient training. The Snatch families are arguing that the
relevant breach – the failure to provide adequately armoured
vehicles to protect against IEDs – occurred in the UK and therefore
within the jurisdiction of the HRA.
2. Whether there is a duty under the HRA to
protect soldiers on the battlefield
The MoD says that there is no duty to take reasonable steps to
protect soldiers from foreseeable risks (irrespective of
a. it would be an unreasonable and
disproportionate burden. Effectively it is public policy not
to provide such rights to soldiers. The Snatch families will
say that there is no logical or lawful reason why soldiers should
be singled out as a peculiarly unlucky group as to be deemed
unsuitable for possessing human rights. On numerous occasions
the courts have emphasised the universality of such rights, of
which the right to life is one of the most important.
Prisoners do not lose human rights and even those found to pose a
threat to national security must have their rights secured.
The Snatch families fully accept that their loved ones were put in
danger, that is what they signed up for, but they do not accept
that they would be left needlessly vulnerable by an avoidable
failure to properly equip them.
b. such matters are non-justiciable (not
suitable for the courts) because they are within the political and
security sphere. The Snatch families will say that whilst
some political / military decisions (such as the decision to go to
war) are non-justiciable this does not cover the Snatch case.
This is not a case of scarce resources or difficult decisions about
the allocation of funds. Gordon Brown made it clear in
evidence to the Iraq Inquiry that he would have met any urgent
request for funding had it been made. Funding for armoured
vehicles was simply not requested by the Army Chiefs/ MoD until it
was prompted to do so by politicians – as a result of public
pressure – in July 2006. This was despite the MoD being fully
aware of the inadequacies of Snatch from well before the Iraq
3. Combat immunity
The MoD argues that it owes no common law duty
of care to soldiers in combat and therefore the claim for
negligence must fail. We say that the MoD’s negligence
occurred well outside any battle conditions and therefore combat
immunity does not apply.
Civil Liberties Solicitor,
Jocelyn Cockburn of Hodge Jones & Allen LLP, representing
the Snatch families, says: “The MoD’s approach throughout this long
process has been to deny that Snatch Land Rovers were
inadequate. This was in the face of evidence from soldiers on
the ground that they were unsafe. This approach has served to
spur the Snatch families on to seek justice and they have been
assisted by wide public support."
"Latterly – in evidence to the Chilcott inquiry, senior military
and political figures have recognised that better armoured vehicles
were “clearly desperately needed” to avoid “unnecessary
casualties”. Despite this, the MoD continues to defend these
claims on the basis that there was no real and immediate risk from
IEDs and/or they did not know about it. The MoD continues to
assert that Snatch Land Rovers were the correct vehicles to
"This has been a sorry tale of incompetence and if ever there
was a case to point to the need for a legal duty to protect
soldiers this is it”."
"There is nothing unreasonable or
disproportionate about a duty on the Government to take
reasonable steps to protect soldiers from known
risks. The safety of soldiers should not be an
afterthought. It does no credit to the MoD that it seeks to
avoid having the inconvenience of a burden which expects them to do
no more than is reasonable to protect soldiers."
The Snatch families will be attending the
hearing on Monday.
The Snatch Land Rover claims
Snatch land rovers are lightly armoured and
were designed to provide no more than limited protection against
ballistic threats mainly small arms bullets. They provide
little or no protection against IEDs, a fact of which the MoD was
Susan Smith’s claim relates to the death of
her son Private Phillip Hewett who was killed in Al Amarah, Iraq on
16 July 2005.
Colin Redpath’s claim relates to the death of
his son Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath who was killed near Basra City
in Iraq on 9 August 2007.
The Ellis family claim relates to the death of
Private Lee Ellis (Courtney’s father and Karla’s sister) who was
killed in Al Amarah on 26 February 2006.