A lawyer representing service veterans in claims against the Ministry of Defence has claimed that her clients are being ‘treated like the enemy’.
Hilary Meredith-Beckham, founder and chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors, criticised the MoD’s approach after it emerged that the department spent £20m on legal costs in 2021/22 defending compensation claims. The costs were revealed after a freedom of information request from the firm.
The figure appears to have jumped since the MoD spent £10m on legal disputes in 2021 and £9m in 2020 (although those figures, given in a parliamentary written answer, did not cover all expenses on legal disputes).
The MoD insists that where evidence does not support allegations made it will robustly defend claims.
Meredith-Beckham said that on average the firm’s serious injury cases against the MoD take up to five years to conclude, with one particular case running into its eighth year. She reported that in civilian claims, claimant and defendant solicitors are more willing than ever to work together for the good of victims, but that conciliatory approach has not been replicated in cases involving the MoD.
‘They’re stubbornly defending claims and adopting aggressive and unnecessary stalling tactics,’ she said. ‘In reality, the MoD is defending its own mistakes and is unwilling to take a step back and look at the bigger picture like an insurance company would.
‘The whole culture needs to change. The taxpayers’ money the MoD is wasting on legal costs would be placed in the hands of those who need it the most – our injured soldiers and veterans.’
The total number of new claims brought against the MoD in 2021/22 was 5,718. This represents a 10.5% increase on pre Covid-19 pandemic volumes in 2019/20.
Meredith-Beckham called on the MoD to take action to reduce the number of valid claims rejected by the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, suggesting that thousands of veterans are forced into a protracted appeal process every year. ‘It’s rubbing salt in the wound and has a huge impact on their mental health. The whole system is in need of urgent review.’
A spokesperson for the MoD said it takes the health and safety of all its personnel very seriously and has a robust governance structure to ensure its managed effectively across the department.
She added: ‘When compensation claims are received, they are considered on the basis of whether or not the MoD has a legal liability to pay compensation. Where there is a proven legal liability, compensation is paid.’