Time limits to bring a civil action against the MoD – the misconceptions
Earlier this month the former Foreign Office minister Sir Henry Bellingham led a lively debate in parliament concerning historic allegations against veterans. Sir Bellingham has said previously that it is appalling former soldiers are “being hounded like common criminals” over historic allegations, sometimes dating back as far as fifty years. The government has also ruled out the prospect of introducing a statute of limitation on these claims against veterans – something which has been called for numerous times over the years.
This seems particularly unjust when service personnel themselves can only make a civil claim in negligence in respect of potentially life-changing injuries within three years of the injury occurring.
This statute of limitation is often unknown and misconceptions are common. For instance, we often hear that soldiers thought they were not allowed make a negligence, assault or discrimination claim until after they had left the services. This seems to be the internal assumption our servicemen and women are led to believe, which is incorrect.
It is a fallacy that can be very damaging to an injured person’s prospects of making a successful claim. The confusion comes in part from the fact that applications for some of the MoD’s own compensation or pension schemes cannot be started until discharge. A civil negligence claim is a completely different and independent procedure.
It is important for a veteran’s transition back onto Civvy Street that any potential claims are investigated – sometimes service personnel are struggling with debilitating physical or mental injuries as a result of their time in the forces and this has a serious knock-on impact – not only on their ability to work but also on their families.
Ultimately, the rules around when a claim can be brought are complicated and depend on the individual case. When making a civil claim some basic rules are as follows, but remember you may well need specialist advice on whether they apply in your case:
- For negligence and assault cases, court proceedings must be started within three years of the date of the injury or the date when a “reasonable person” ought to have known they had been significantly injured by something the other person did or did not do (the act believed to be negligent), and when they knew that person’s (or organisation) identity. “Knowledge” and “reasonable person” are legal concepts that have been argued about in many cases and can be open to interpretation. It is therefore wise to seek legal advice promptly.
- Any court proceedings regarding harassment must begin within six years of the cause of action arising. Whether or not a series of acts amounts to harassment and therefore when the time limit starts to run, is something that again can be complex.
- For discrimination claims the process is complicated – these claims are normally brought in the Employment Tribunal, where much shorter and strict time limits apply. However, you will normally have to raise a service complaint before you are entitled to proceed in the Employment Tribunal which can slow down the process.
Sir Henry Bellingham’s speech earlier this month is sure to spark debate, and rightly so. Something that’s not being debated, however, is the short amount of time service personnel themselves have to bring a negligence claim and how misconceptions rule rife in the armed forces – something which needs to end.
Rhicha Kapila is a solicitor, the head of the Military Claims team and partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp. If you or a loved one have a claim, contact Rhicha free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4845 or at RhichaKapila@boltburdonkemp.co.uk. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Military Claims team will contact you. Find out more about the Military Claims team.