The lead story in today””s Sunday Times is – if true (and we are talking about The Sunday Times here) – quite extraordinary. According to the article, the Ministry of Defence will be going to the Court of Appeal to try to cut the compensation awards made to two servicemen for the injuries they sustained serving in Iraq in one case and whilst training in the other. The “principle” that the MoD is seeking to defend is that it should only pay compensation for the injuries received, rather than for any complications that arise during treatment. Three judges in the High Court had previously ruled that it would be “absurd” to divorce the injury from the treatment.
There should be no quibbling about compensation in such cases. If the suggestion is that the treatment was at fault, then that should be a matter between the MoD and those providing the treatment (presumably part of the NHS). It is patently unreasonable to expect service personnel, who have been asked to risk their lives on behalf of the country, first to do battle with the MoD, whom most people might have expected to be defending their interests, and then to sue separately for negligence over the way in which their injuries were treated.
Not only is the decision to go to the Court of Appeal to try to get the compensation awards cut morally wrong, it is also politically crass. The Government having had a good record previously on the Gurkhas managed to get themselves hammered on their rights to settle here a few months ago. More recently, there has been the row about helicopter support to our troops in Afghanistan (whatever the rights and wrongs of this, it is a fact that the US provides far more helicopter support proportionally for the number of troops they deploy than we do). Now there are escalating concerns about the rise in the number of casualties in Afghanistan. It doesn”t take a political genius to realise that to embark on a row by seeking to cut compensation awards already agreed by the existing appeals process is a battle not worth fighting. Time for Ministers to get a grip ….