Service chiefs tell judges gay ban must stay

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The Independent Online
All the service chiefs still believe there is a substantial risk that lifting the ban on gays in the armed forces would damage their efficiency, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Bingham, and two other Court of Appeal judges are hearing the latest stage of an attempt by four former service- men and women to overturn the ban. On Monday the court was told by David Pannick QC, representing the four, that the ban was irrational.

But yesterday Stephen Richards, for the Ministry of Defence, quoted from an affidavit by the Air Chief Marshal, Sir John Willis, on behalf of all the services, which said: "A high state of discipline and morale is essential to the fighting efficiency of the services. To allow those of a homosexual orientation in the armed services would be a disruptive influence on the fabric of service life and discipline.

"The services have a duty of care for the welfare and morale of their young members. To expose them to potentially disruptive and disturbing influences would be to fail in that duty. The nature of armed forces life requires its members to live in close proximity with others in single- sex accommodation, with little privacy and at times under great stress and physically in close quarters with colleagues."

It was necessary to have "absolute trust and confidence between and within all ranks". Mr Richards told the court it was the public duty of the services to provide an efficient and effective fighting force.

Britain is almost alone among Western countries in keeping a ban on gays in its forces. But Mr Richards said other countries who had admitted gays had only done so recently, so it was not possible to say the ban had suddenly become irrational.

He said that based on the experience of senior officers "it is not possible to retain even homosexuals who claim to be in serious relationships".

The ban had been repeatedly supported by Parliament, he said, and was lawful.

Moving on to the argument by the four ex-service personnel that the ban breached the European Union's equal treatment directive, Mr Richards said this did not apply to people's sexuality but only to equal treatment between genders.

The case was rejected by the High Court in June, although one of the judges, Lord Justice Simon Brown, said it was with "hesitation and regret" that the court decided it could not overturn the ban. "The tide of history is against the Ministry of Defence. Prejudices are breaking down - old barriers are being removed," he said in his judgment. He doubted that the ban could survive much longer.

The MoD subsequently commissioned a review of the evidence, and is looking at the operation of other armed forces that do not ban gays. MPs are due to reconsider the policy next year. The four have said they will take their case to the House of Lords if they are turned down by the Court of Appeal.

The four are a former Navy lieutenant commander, Duncan Lustig-Prean, 36; a former RAF sergeant, Graeme Grady, 32; a former RAF nurse, Jeanette Smith, 28, from Edinburgh; and a former navy weapons engineer, John Beckett, 25. All had civilian partners when they discharged, and all had good service records.

The case continues today.