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Armed Forces Personnel ‘Not Employees’ Court Rules

In the context of compensation claims brought by members of the armed forces who are injured at work, the High Court has emphasised that services personnel are not employed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), nor do they work under contracts of service.

Three servicemen had successfully sued the MoD after being injured on duty. An issue arose, however, as to whether the cases fell within a legal costs regime which applied to certain employers’ liability claims following workplace accidents. Despite the large number of damages claims against the MoD, the issue was a novel one and had not previously been considered.

The Court noted that, for reasons of public policy, the relationship between the Crown and services personnel, as well as police officers, had never been viewed as one of employment. The term ‘contract of service’ had ‘a single meaning which does not vary’ and it could not be argued that services personnel were ‘employees’ within the meaning of the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969.

The Court noted that, regardless of whether the three servicemen were employees, the MoD owed them duties of care both at common law and under health and safety legislation. However, the Court’s decision meant that the costs regime – under which the MoD had sought to limit the success fees earned by the trio’s lawyers – did not apply to the cases.