The Government must establish a more truly independent complaints process in the Armed Services, says the Defence Committee in its report, published today. The report is a response to the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill.
The Committee has welcomed the proposals for the new Service Complaints Ombudsman, and argues it will strengthen independent oversight and streamline the complaints process. But, the committee argues, the Bill does not go far enough.
Chair of the Committee, Rory Stewart MP, says
"It is vital that any future Ombudsman is seen by Service personnel as being entirely independent. The MoD's proposals will leave it still too closely involved in controlling the Ombudsman's investigations. We would like wider power for the Ombudsman, and clearer guarantees of genuine independence. This will not undermine the chain of command, it will build confidence in it."
Madeleine Moon MP, a member of the Committee, added
"The changes proposed by the Committee also address the problem of delays in handling Service complaints. The Bill and our proposed changes will encourage the Services to resolve problems in swifter and more effective ways."
The Committee has proposed a number of amendments to the Bill, including: expanding the Ombudsman's powers to investigate not simply 'maladministration' and injustice but also the substance of the complaint; making the Ombudsman's recommendations binding; allowing the Ombudsman to initiate thematic reviews: and clarifying the structures for independent oversight of the Service Police.
The Committee believes that these amendments will strengthen the Ombudsman and increase transparency, accountability and fairness in the complaints system. They will further enshrine the independence of the Ombudsman, rebuild the confidence of Armed Forces personnel in the system, and equip the Ombudsman with a suite of powers to ensure that they could act as a custodian of a complaints system, which is truly efficient, effective and fair. The UK’s Armed Forces deserve no less.