The Centre for Military Justice (CMJ) is a new, independent charity that has been established by the former Head of Legal at Liberty, Emma Norton, Des James, the father of the late Pte Cheryl James who died at Deepcut barracks, retired Brigadier John Donnelly, former Director of Army Personal Services, and Sian Nicholson, a senior fundraiser.
The charity will perform two essential functions. First of all, it will provide an important and much needed specialist legal advice and advocacy service to serving and former Armed Forces personnel (or their bereaved families) that have suffered serious bullying, neglect, sexual harassment, sexual violence or death. Secondly, it will play an important role in promoting greater understanding of the value of the rule of law and the Human Rights Act, through educating and improving understanding across the Armed Forces sector as to the value of access to justice, the rule of law and human rights.
The trustee board is particularly unique in that it brings together the two different ‘sides’ that often emerge in this field – those that have suffered most profoundly because of human rights violations or other neglect in the Armed Forces, and a former Brigadier, representing the senior leadership of the Armed Forces with whom we are trying to engage.
Serious bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual violence remain a serious problem for the Armed Forces. Victims of such behaviour suffer very poor legal outcomes and a lack of psychological support. For families whose loved ones suffer a death in service, the inquest and related processes involving the Ministry of Defence are isolating, bewildering and devastating. As a consequence, good people are leaving the Armed Forces, very poor or criminal behaviour goes unpunished and/or lessons from serious incidents are not being learned.
A poor understanding within the Armed Forces community of the value of access to justice, the rule of law and human rights contributes to this continuing state of affairs but also – importantly – feeds the wider toxic narrative that human rights and the rule of law are bad for the Armed Forces.
The Centre for Military Justice has been a long time in the making. After more than a year of planning, we were granted charitable status in December 2019. We are, now, very small and we may not be able to help everyone that contacts us. But we have big ambitions. We will provide high quality legal services and support to people in need, engage constructively with those within the Armed Forces that genuinely want to get better at dealing with the kinds of problems experienced by our clients – and tackle them head on when they don’t.