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Wigston Review: A ray of light for service personnel following years of frustration?

Following the Wigston Review it seems there is finally going to be an overhaul of the Service Complaints System within the Armed Forces which has long been considered ineffective in addressing incidences of bullying, harassment and discrimination.  I have noticed a recurring frustration among service personnel that they do not believe that anything will change if they submit a Service Complaint and they often fear recriminations for speaking out.  It is welcome that the Wigston Report has recognised the inherent problems with the current system and that wholesale changes have been recommended which the MOD have said they will adopt.

Wigston reported that there was a “disproportionate overrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities” making complaints and the changes are intended to address this.  The report found that there was “a pressing need to reform the Service Complaints system including: anonymous reporting inappropriate behaviours, a helpline; a parallel channel for raising Service Complaints outwith the chain of command; and a dedicated Central Service Complaints team equipped to deal with the most complex allegations of bullying, harassment including sexual harassment and assault”.  Many service personnel had not felt able to come forward and report incidences of discrimination, harassment including sexual, and bullying.

The Wigston review recognised that confidence in the Complaints process must be improved so that service personnel feel they can report any issue of concern without fear of retribution.  I would add that those in the military making complaints should also feel that their complaints are going to be looked at seriously and that proper redress is given.  The service personnel I speak to often tell me that they do not bother making a Service Complaint as nothing will come of it and that they fear they will be adversely treated for having spoken out.

The recommendation is that all Service Complaints are dealt with by the new Defence Authority who will be responsible for culture and Inappropriate Behaviours and given proper resource and priorities.  Wigston added that complaints should be made outside “the chain of command with confidence, and anonymous complaints received, and identities protected”.  This is key given that as the report found that many personnel felt not able to report instances of bullying harassment and discrimination.  Clients often tell me that they do make a Service Complaint as there is nothing will come of it and that they fear they will be adversely treated for having spoken out.  This is a step in the right direction and that if fully implemented could lead a sea change in the way that Service Complaints are dealt with, leading to confidence that the system is effective and hopefully leads to a reduction of bullying, harassment and discrimination within the armed forces.

Tom Spearpoint is a senior solicitor in the Military Claims team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you or a loved one have suffered an injury or you are concerned about the treatment you have received, contact Tom free of charge and in confidence on 020 3973 5010 or at  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.

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