BBK Manifesto: Revamp the Service Complaints process | Bolt Burdon Kemp BBK Manifesto: Revamp the Service Complaints process | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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BBK Manifesto: Revamp the Service Complaints process

The Service Complaints process is still not truly independent and needs updating to build trust among personnel, BBK believes.

We have spoken to thousands of Servicewomen and Service personnel from ethnic minority backgrounds who tell us they have a deep-rooted mistrust of the Service Complaints process.

This is well documented in available statistics and was a theme explored extensively in the Atherton Report, which concluded that six out of 10 women do not complain for fear it will negatively impact their career or that they believe nothing will be done and their complaint will not be taken seriously.

Ethnic minorities have also been overrepresented in the Service Complaints process, according to yearly reports from the office of the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces.

In fact, the majority of Service personnel, whatever their background, do not trust the system to be fair and transparent.

This mirrors what our clients have told us, with many explaining their complaints were not believed because the perpetrator was in their Chain of Command.

Despite the changes made since the Atherton Report, there are still major concerns with trust in the complaints process.

We do recognise there have been some improvements to the complaints process. For example, with the introduction of a new Joint Service Publication 831 governing that process in June 2022.

The key change, which is to be welcomed, is the removal of the Chain of Command from the question of admissibility of complaints; that question will now be determined by a Single Service Secretariat. However, the Chain of Command remain involved in the determination of a complaint, and this is where a great deal of injustice can be done – particularly in cases involving sexual harassment and discrimination.

The Service Complaint process is still not truly independent.

Complaint outcomes are often clinical and seek to take advantage of technical points rather than consider the need to investigate (either for the sake of the individual or for the sake of the Service). There is an increasing view amongst legal practitioners that the MOD wants to shut complaints down, rather than operate a transparent process. In particular, there are concerns over the appeals process.

We agree with all the recommendations made by the Service Complaints Ombudsman for the Armed Forces (“SCOAF”) in her 2022 annual report, not all of which have been implemented by the MOD. In particular, the MOD should:

  • Seek to amend the allowable grounds of appealing a Service Complaint to include material error of reasoning.
  • Establish a formal process of quality review allowing for oversight of the Service Complaints system.

This blog is part of our #ChampioningChange Campaign, specifically, Bolt Burdon Kemp LLP’s 2024 Manifesto for Injured People. In this campaign we call for politicians and candidates to prioritise injured people as they go into the 2024 General Election. This work is informed by our clients’ experiences and our partnerships with charities which support our clients and others like them. If you would like to read more about our full manifesto you can do so here.

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