Sharon Hardy, the older sister of the late Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, explains how the Human Rights Act enabled her family to hold the Army to account.
‘Accountability. Justice. Reform. These things do not happen overnight. They are the product of years of hard work by the devastated victims of state abuse – or, where the victim has not survived, their loved ones. And the Human Rights Act enabled us to do it. Without it, we would have achieved absolutely nothing.’
My younger sister, Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, died in 2011. She was a serving soldier.
Anne-Marie had reported being raped by two of her colleagues and then she had suffered the most awful rape-related bullying, culminating in her decision to take her own life. The Coroner at her first inquest refused to hear any of this evidence, concluding simply that she had committed suicide and refusing to allow us to ask any difficult questions of the Army and Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The first time we used the Human Rights Act (HRA) was to challenge that decision in the High Court, using Article 2 of the HRA (the right to life and the legal duty to investigate deaths). The case quickly settled, the Coroner accepting that the inquest should have enabled those wider questions to be asked and the case was sent back for a second inquest.
The second time we used the Human Rights Act was at the fresh inquest, which – because the HRA required it – investigated not just how my sister had died but how and in what circumstances she had died. It meant that the background of her reporting rape, the mistreatment by her chain of command and her colleagues, including the lack of care and bullying, could all be investigated and publicly exposed. It resulted in a very critical verdict which directly produced a number of specific improvements to Army policy towards those reporting sexual trauma and suffering mental ill-health. On the day of the inquest verdict, the Defence Secretary announced the creation of the first ever independent Ombudsman for the Armed Forces. The MoD publicly apologised and said, ‘it is vital that we learn the lessons of these events.’
The third time we used the Human Rights Act was to force the MoD to ensure that our late sister’s rape allegations were re-investigated, this time properly. Again, we had to threaten to take the authorities to the High Court, this time relying on Article 3 of the Human Rights Act (the right to a thorough investigation where inhuman or degrading treatment has occurred). After threatening to take them to court, the MoD conceded and ordered a fresh independent rape investigation which resulted in two soldiers being charged (and later acquitted) of rape at Court Martial.
Not one part of this journey of this would have been possible without the HRA. None of the following would have happened: a fresh inquest, a fresh rape investigation and trial, a new Ombudsman, changes to Army mental health policy, a new policy on the services to be provided to survivors of sexual violence in the Armed Forces, and a new policy on the policing of serious crime in the military police.
Accountability. Justice. Reform. These things do not happen overnight. They are the product of years of hard work by the devastated victims of state abuse – or, where the victim has not survived, their loved ones. And the HRA enabled us to do it. Without it, we would have achieved absolutely nothing.
This year is the tenth anniversary of my sister’s death. I can think of no worse tribute to her life than this proposal to undermine the Human Rights Act.
Sharon Hardy is one of the sisters of the late Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement who died in 2011 after reporting rape and bullying in the Royal Military Police. She is on the Advisory Board of the Centre for Military Justice.