Theresa May has announced a crackdown on “no win no fee” law firms that “impugn” the name of army by making vexatious claims against troops.
The Prime Minister said that she wants to end the “industry” of vexatious claims against the armed forces to demonstrate to soldiers that they have “our full confidence and backing”.
It comes amid mounting criticism of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat), which was set up to investigate allegations of murder, abuse and torture by British troops.
Former soldiers have claimed they have been hounded through the courts on unfounded claims and there are growing calls for Ihat to be shut down.
Mrs May spoke out during a visit with the Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, to meet members of the 1 Mercian regiment at Picton Barracks, Bulford, Wiltshire.
“It has been great to come here and meet men and women who are serving in our armed forces and who make such sacrifices for us and who serve with such pride and distinction,” said Mrs May.
She was making her first visit to a military base since becoming Prime Minister.
“Their families make sacrifices too and we should never forget that.
“It is right when they go out there and are fighting for us that they have the confidence in what they are doing.
“What we know is if there are credible allegations of criminal behaviour, of course those should be properly investigated but what we need to take action on, and what we have taken action on already, is this issue of vexatious claims.
“The issue of those legal firms that are trying to impugn the name of our armed forces.
“We have already taken action to deal with that and we are looking at seeing what we can do and I am hoping we will be able to announce some further steps in the next few days.
“We have taken action and we are looking at the whole issue of the ‘no win, no fee’ firms who are trying to create this industry of making claims against our armed forces.
“We need to ensure that when the men and women of our armed forces go out there on our behalf, willing to sacrifice themselves for our safety and for our defence, that they have our full confidence and backing in doing that and that’s what we will give them.”
Mrs May also discussed the issue last week when she met with the Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the heads of the navy, army and air force, and senior civil servants.
MP Johnny Mercer, a member of the Defence Select Committee who is heading an investigation into Ihat, has branded the legal pursuit of troops “a national disgrace” and called for the team to be axed.
Recently, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said British troops must face investigation for alleged abuses carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan as the UK had signed up to international law and it would be a “step too far” to say troops should not face prosecution for their actions.
Corbyn says criminal investigations into British Iraq veterans should continue
Mr Corbyn told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I have spoken to a number of soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. I recognise the awful conditions they were asked to serve under and the difficulties they had with that.
“But I do think there has to be a recognition that we have signed up to international law on the behaviour of troops.”
He said the US and other European countries were going through the same experience.
“So I think there has to be investigation,” he said. “Saying never to prosecute, I think, would be a step too far.”
Former prime minister Tony Blair has also criticised the process. He told The Sunday Telegraph: “I do not think this process should ever have been put in place. I am very sorry that our soldiers and their families have been put through this ordeal.”
He added: “Our armed forces gave extraordinary service in both Iraq and Afghanistan and this type of investigation simply makes their job harder to do.”