Court martial abused rights

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The Independent Online
Significant changes in the way court martials are conducted in Britain will not end the unfairness of the system, judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg were told yesterday.

Revised procedures aimed at reinforcing the independence of the military courts come into force next April. But that will be too late to help Falklands' veteran Alexander Findlay, said John Mackenzie, his lawyer.

Mr Findlay, 35, suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the battle of Tumbledown in 1982 - but that was overlooked when he was court martialed in 1991 for taking Army colleagues hostage at gunpoint in Northern Ireland. The former Scots Guardsman, who lives in Windsor, Berkshire, is still so traumatised he could not attend yesterday's session. But he accused the Government of breaching his human rights because of the conduct of his court martial.

Mr Mackenzie said that Mr Findlay had been denied a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal, as guaranteed by the Human Rights Convention to which Britain is a signatory. He urged the judges in Strasbourg to find the Government in violation of the convention and to award substantial compensation.

The case is just the first in a series of attempts by Army and RAF personnel who have faced a court martial to have the system scrapped as a breach of human rights. If the judges back Mr Findlay, the Ministry of Defence could face dozens of claims and a bill for millions of pounds, even though changes already have Royal Assent.

Mr Findlay pleaded guilty at his court martial to offences committed after a heavy drinking session and was jailed for two years. Mr Mackenzie told the human rights judges that the current court martial procedure could not be deemed a properly constituted court with appropriately trained officials having legal qualifications or experience. The verdict will be delivered next year.