Bond Pearce beats MoD in landmark immunity case

Soldiers given the right to claim damages; hundreds more claims expected

Bond Pearce has secured a landmark High Court victory that will enable hundreds of compensation cases for death or injury of members of the armed forces to go ahead.
The case was handled by associate Cliff Poole and solicitor Peter Mitchell of the firm's Exeter office. In his judgment, Mr Justice Keith concluded that the Crown's immunity from action by members of the armed forces was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The claimant, Alan Matthews, was an electrical engineer in the Royal Navy between 1955 and 1968. He claimed to have developed an asbestos-related illness during the course of his work and brought a claim for damages for personal injury against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The MoD denied the claim, relying on the immunity it believed it was entitled to. Until after the Second World War, legal proceedings could not be brought against the Crown as of right. The enactment in 1947 of the Crown Proceedings Act removed that immunity, but the armed forces were treated individually. The Crown could not be sued in tort if the Secretary of State certified that the death or injury would be treated as attributable to service for the purposes of entitlement to a war pension.
This exception was removed in 1987, but its removal was not retrospective. In his judgment Judge Keith said: “The outcome of a number of large group actions is said to be dependent on the success of this challenge. The cases of members of the armed forces whose claims have been trumped by the issue by the Secretary of State of the appropriate certificate could well be similarly affected.”
Poole said: “We thought it was about time that someone had a crack at section 10 [of the Crown Proceedings Act]. The Transport and General Workers Union, who brought the case, said to give it a run and see where we got.”
Bond Pearce instructed Robert Weir of Devereux Chambers for the claimant. Robert Jay QC of 39 Essex Street and Helen Mountfield of Matrix Chambers were instructed by the Treasury Solicitor for the MoD.