Cases that drag on for months or even years can have a significantly harmful effect on the health and welfare of all those involved. Despite improvements I cannot give an assurance this year that the Service complaints system is yet working efficiently, effectively or fairly.

Dr Susan Atkins, Service Complaints Commissioner

The Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC) submitted her second annual report to the Secretary of State on 10 Mar 2010.

The BAFF View. We welcomed the creation of the post of Service Complaints Commissioner under the Armed Forces Act 2006, but would prefer the post to have more powers, perhaps along the lines of the Defence Force Ombudsman of Australia (who is also the Commonwealth Ombudsman in that country).

On the other hand, BAFF recognises that the responsibilities of a service complaints commissioner or ombudsman need to be carefully considered. We have recently expressed reservations about a proposal in European circles for the establishment of a European Military Ombudsman, if such an office was to be involved in national matters, and not only the actions of European institutions. BAFF Chairman Douglas Young also expressed concern about a suggestion that such an ombudsman ahould have a say in Rules of Engagement (ROE).

Some background from the SCC press release about the annual report:

  1. 289 people, both Service personnel and their friends and families, contacted the SCC about a potential Service complaint, an increase of approximately 50% from 2008 to 2009. This figure, alongside evidence from the most recent Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey, suggests that awareness of the SCC and its role is increasing.
  2. The post of the Service Complaints Commissioner (SCC) was created by the Armed Forces Act 2006 as part of the Ministry of the Defence’s commitment to eradicate all forms of improper behaviour in the Armed Forces, particularly bullying, harassment and unlawful discrimination. This followed recommendations made by the Defence Committee in its Report on Duty of Care 2004-2005 and by Nicholas Blake QC, now Sir Nicholas, in the Deepcut Review – his report into the deaths of four soldiers at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut, Surrey. The SCC role became operational on 1 January 2008.
  3. The role and responsibilities of the Commissioner were set out in the Armed Forces Act 2006. The role is two fold – firstly to provide a rigorous and independent oversight of how the Service Complaints System is working and to report annually to minister and Parliament – and secondly to provide an alternative point of contact for Service men or women who do not feel they can raise a complaint with their chain of command without her oversight.
  4. The Commissioner has no powers to investigate complaints herself. However she is able to refer a complaint to the relevant chain of command and maintain oversight of how it is dealt with.

More information from BAFF about service complaints and redress