The statement made by Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State for Defence, in the House of Commons on 21 October 2021.
It is vital for UK Defence that our service justice system has the most up-to-date framework, skills and processes in place to deal with all allegations of offending. At the heart of the service justice system must be robust, independent, and trusted investigation processes that have the confidence of service personnel and the international community. It is for this reason, that on 13 October 2020, I announced a review by Sir Richard Henriques to examine investigative and prosecutorial processes for dealing with allegations of offences on overseas operations and improve the quality of investigations and their outcomes.
The review was to build upon but not reopen the recommendations of the service justice system review by HH Shaun Lyons and Sir Jon Murphy. The review was to be forward looking and, whilst drawing on insights from the handling of allegations from recent operations, was not to reconsider past investigative or prosecutorial decisions or reopen historical cases.
I am pleased today to publish that report. I am very grateful for the comprehensive and considered work Sir Richard has undertaken and I particularly welcome his recognition of the need for a separate system of military justice. With the improvements which will flow from his recommendations we can be confident it will be a more efficient and effective system for the accused and for victims.
Sir Richard’s report contains 64 recommendations, approximately a third of which are focused on taking forward the establishment of a defence serious crime unit, which was originally proposed in the earlier Lyons/Murphy review of the service justice system. There are also operations-related recommendations training, detention processes and record-keeping), recommendations for non-statutory protocols between the service police, the Service Prosecuting Authority and the judge advocate general relating to the investigation of allegations against UK forces of unlawful killing and ill-treatment in the context of overseas operations, recommendations for improving the technical/IT systems supporting the service courts, and recommendations relating to summary hearings. I particularly welcome Sir Richard’s support of the provisions in the current Armed Forces Bill to retain concurrent jurisdiction, and that the creation of the defence serious crime unit will help drive up conviction rates for serious offences.
We have considered Sir Richard’s recommendations carefully, and will be taking forward the work in the following ways:
The new defence serious crime unit is key to meeting our commitment to further strengthen the service justice system. The defence serious crime unit will brigade the investigative capability for serious offending of the existing three service police forces. Under the leadership of a new provost marshal for serious crime, it will be instrumental in ensuring our service police are fully capable of meeting the challenges faced by the service justice system now and in the years ahead. I have therefore prioritised this work. The Government will be bringing forward amendments to the Armed Forces Bill to implement the recommendations on this topic which require primary legislation at this stage. These amendments will ensure that the new provost marshal will have all of the legal powers and responsibilities of the existing provost marshals; and in particular, that the new provost marshal will be responsible for guaranteeing the independence of investigations conducted by the new unit.
In respect of the recommendations which draw on the work of former judge advocate general His Honour Jeffrey Blackett and Lord Thomas of Gresford for the creation of a non-statutory protocol about the handling of serious allegations arising in the context of overseas operations, the Government believe these are matters for the independent service police, the Service Prosecuting Authority and the judge advocate general to consider in the first instance.
Work on implementing four other recommendations is also expected to be taken forward over the coming months. These will amend standard operating procedures to ensure that service police are informed with minimum delay of reportable offences, establish a serious incident board within the permanent joint headquarters, create or upgrade an operational record keeping system, and adopt a uniform approach in respect of training of service legal personnel prior to their posting to the Service Prosecuting Authority.
The remaining recommendations including legal support to personnel, improved technology/IT for the service courts and improvements to the summary hearing process, raise wider implications relating to policy, legal and resourcing issues. Those will be considered further by the Department over the coming months. The goal will be to ensure that the recommendations dovetail with our overarching intent to maintain operational effectiveness, including the swift delivery of fair and efficient justice for victims and offenders. Where appropriate and necessary, legislation will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows. I will update the House in due course.
I am confident that this review—along with the earlier service justice system review—sets out a template for the service justice system for the future. As I have set out above, where possible we are seeking to implement the most important of the recommendations as quickly as possible; and we are committing to progress the rest in the way I have described. The Government believe that the recommendations by Sir Richard will significantly improve the quality of investigations, will be fully compliant with the requirements in the European convention on human rights and will help improve service to victims of crime within the forces.
A copy of Sir Richard’s report will be placed in the Library of the House.