Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Regina v HM Foot Guards

Numerous media outlets (example here) in the UK have reported that 13 members of the Welsh Guards have been sentenced to 14 days in the Military Corrective Training Centre by their CO for breaking socialdistancing rules. The Guardsmen who were guarding Windsor Castle where HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh are shielding broke social distancing at a party by the River Thames. Four of those involved failed Compulsory Drugs Tests after the event and were discharged from HM Forces under a separate administrative procedure. 

Although the exact charge is unknown, on the face of it this is a concerning sentence, passed by a CO with no legal training in a hearing where legal representation is banded, which is far in excess of the penalty a civilian would receive for the same offence. The sentence is double that which would be expected for the offence of breach of standing orders (even when factoring in the aggravating factors of the wilful nature of the breach and therisk it exposes other members of the unit to Covid-19). If the charge was disobedience of a lawful command, then the sentence is at the bottom of the entry point for intentional disobedience. Although it would be surprising if at this stage Covid-19 procedures had not become part of standing orders and were disseminated in an ad hoc manner. Potentially this suggests overcharging. 

The key issue though, and one which has apparently caused significant anger amongst the junior ranks of the battalion, is the disparity between these sentences and how a civilian would be treated. A sentence of 14 days detention means the offender will spend 14 days without pay in an environment equivalent to a prison but with an enhanced basic training regimethrown in. A civilian could expect a small fixed financial penalty. The Armed Forces are held to a higher standard and those who serve accept that but even with that in mind it is hard to see what good service reason exists to justify treating these Guardsmen so differently to civilian employees serving HM The Queen at Windsor Castle.  

The Guardsmen have an automatic right of appeal to the Summary Appeal Court. It will be interesting to see if any of them exercise their right.

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