Injured servicemen's awards to be reassessed

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The Independent Online

Compensation awards to two injured servicemen are to be reassessed following a ruling by appeal judges today in a case brought by the Ministry of Defence.

The Court of Appeal upheld, in part, a challenge by the MoD to awards made to Light Dragoon Anthony Duncan and Royal Marine Matthew McWilliams.

Earlier this year, the court heard legal argument to clarify the principles under which the armed forces compensation scheme should be administered.

As a result of today's decision, the two cases will go back to a compensation tribunal for reconsideration.

At the time of the hearing in July, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth announced a review of the scheme would be speeded up, although the court's consideration of its current legal effect would continue.

Cpl Duncan was originally awarded £9,250, which was increased to £46,000 by the tribunal, and Marine McWilliams's £8,250 award was increased to £28,750.

The 27-year-old corporal was shot in Iraq in 2005 and overcame two years of rehabilitation to ship out in April this year with his Light Dragoons colleagues to fight in Afghanistan for six months. Marine McWilliams fractured his thigh in training.

There was a public and media outcry during the hearing of the appeal, with accusations that the MoD was unfairly trying to cut soldiers' compensation awards.

But Lord Justice Carnwath, sitting with Lords Justices Keene and Elias, said today: "Although some adverse publicity accompanied the beginning of this case, related to its timing linked to tragic events in Afghanistan, the Secretary of State was, in my view, entirely justified in bringing the appeal, at least from a legal point of view.

"It seeks to clarify some important and difficult issues relating to construction of the scheme."

The case centred on the correct interpretation of complex tables identifying categories of injuries and their seriousness - such as simple and complex fractures - and how subsequent complications might alter the category.

Natasha Gunney, a senior associate in the disputes team at law firm Lovells, which acted free of charge for Cpl Duncan and Marine McWilliams, said after the judgment that the court had, in relation to most of the disputed issues, rejected the narrower interpretation contended for by the MoD.

"By ruling that the relevant parts of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) should be given a wider construction, the Court of Appeal has allowed for servicemen and women to be better compensated not only for the injuries which they sustain in service but also for the consequences of such injuries.

"This wider construction is in keeping with the fundamental objective of the AFCS which must be to provide a fair system of compensation for servicemen and women injured whilst serving in our Armed Forces.

"This case has highlighted the confusing and ambiguous nature of the AFCS where - without pro bono assistance - service personnel are unable to readily identify what level of compensation they are entitled to or to understand the often complicated legal processes involved."

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