The Government’s response to the Atherton Report

02nd Dec 2021

The Government has today published its long-awaited response to the Defence Committee Inquiry on Women in the Armed Forces.

At the CMJ, we were looking for the following things:

  1. the law to be changed to create a presumption that serious crimes in the military, including rape, when they occur in the UK, are taken forward in the civilian justice system, not the military justice system
  2. serious sexual harassment complaints to be taken not only outside of the chain of command but away from the single services themselves
  3. to scrap the current proposal that will allow the time period for appealing a complex sexual harassment complaint to be reduced from six weeks to just two; and
  4. confirmation that the Government accepts the detailed proposals recently made by an independent judge in his review of military policing overseas that are critical if the much-heralded Defence Serious Crime Unit is to be effective.

Sadly, while there are undoubtedly lots of good things in today’s announcement, we didn’t see any of these things in the Government’s response.

The House of Lords, Victims Commissioner, an independent judge, a former chief constable, the entire Defence Select Committee and, most importantly, very large numbers of service women, men and veterans have all said that serious military crimes including rape should be taken out of the military justice system. It’s extremely disappointing that the Government has once again rejected all those calls.

It’s also incredibly disappointing that the Wigston recommendation that serious sexual harassment complaints should be taken away from the single services themselves has also been rejected.

There is lots in the Government’s response that will undoubtedly improve the Armed Forces’ responses to sexual misconduct.  It’s really important to acknowledge that, as well as to acknowledge the clear message from the Defence Secretary that such behaviour must be rooted out.  The creation of a new Outsourced Investigations Service, the removal of all sexual harassment complaints from the chain of command, the acceptance of the need in principle for a Defence Serious Crime Unit – all these are positive. But as long as the Government ducks the big changes that so many agree are needed, it will stand accused of picking lower hanging fruit over fundamental reform.  A lot of service women will be disappointed this morning.

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