§ LORD KILMANY
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the legal costs incurred by British soldiers arraigned in Ulster Courts of Law for alleged offences committed in the course of duty are borne by Army funds, and whether this equally applies to any costs of appeal.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE FOR THE ARMY (LORD BRAYLEY)
My Lords, the legal costs, including those of appeal, are borne by public funds.
§ LORD KILMANY
My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that satisfactory reply, may I ask whether he is aware of the damage that is being done to the morale of British troops in Ulster when they see a comrade arraigned in the civil courts for an incident that occurred entirely in the course of that man's military duty? And when accidents do occur, ought not the Army to accept responsibility, rather than palm it off on to some individual soldier who is doing the best he can in intolerable circumstances?
§ LORD BRAYLEY
My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord is really questioning whether the Army or the civil authorities should handle the cases that come before them. Is that so?
§ LORD BRAYLEY
My Lords, I was only asking the noble Lord to clarify his question. The legal position is that under Section 70(4) of the Army Act 1955 charges in respect of serious crimes, such as manslaughter, committed in the United Kingdom must be dealt with in civil courts and cannot be tried by courts-martial. The role of the Army in Northern Ireland is that of assisting the Civil Power in the maintenance of law and order. Since direct rule, the policy that has been followed is that in this role the Army must itself be subject to common and statutory law, which it is seeking to uphold, and this must be manifestly seen. To change the position at law—for example, to enable military courts to deal with serious crimes committed in the United Kingdom—would require legislation. As noble Lords know, there is a case which is at present sub judice and I do not want to discuss it. The problem, however, is one that must be borne in mind when the sub judice case is out of the way and we begin to consider wider issues. Perhaps the noble Lord now understands why I asked him to enlarge upon his question.
§ LORD ALLERTON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether troops in Northern Ireland are regarded as being on active service, and if not, why not?
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that members of the Armed Forces serving in Northern Ireland are subject to the common law? The point at issue now is a simple one. Will the noble Lord confirm that if they are arraigned, either before a court-martial or before a civil court, the cost of their defence, including the cost of an appeal, should an appeal become necessary, will be borne by public funds? Does not the noble Lord agree that that is the issue?
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the case to which the Question refers has caused more discontent among all ranks in the Army, wherever they are serving, than five years of frustration by the politicians?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, may I point out that the Question on the Order Paper does not refer to any specific case, and, if I may say so, I think we need to treat this matter with some care. We are here in a judicial field, and I think it might be better if we had notice of this question, then perhaps my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack could answer on behalf of the Government.