The military cannot be trusted to rule on rape and sexual assault cases, the first female MP to have served in the regular Armed Forces says. Former defence minister Sarah Atherton wants these cases moved out of court martial settings and dealt with by the civilian system.
There was alarm last year when it was found 80 percent of rape cases tried by a military court martial in the previous three years did not lead to a conviction.
Of 53 charges between 2019-21, Ministry of Defence figures show only 11 resulted in guilty findings.
The Wrexham Tory MP claims people are much less likely to be convicted for rape in a military court and that something is “going wrong”.
Ms Atherton, 55, a member of Westminster’s defence committee, has founded a cross-party group for women in defence and has vowed to fight for change.
She said: “There are 4,106 women I have a duty towards because of the position I found myself in, so I will continue to pursue this.”
A defence committee probe led by Ms Atherton found in 2021 that “servicewomen were nearly twice as likely to experience” bullying, harassment and discrimination than men. Eleven percent of regular female personnel had suffered sexual harassment in the past year.
Pressing for rape cases to be heard in civilian courts, she said: “I really believe it should be removed from the military justice system. Just so women can have justice.
“This is not ‘woking up’ the military – I’m the least woke person you’ll find. It’s about British values of justice, fairness and equality.”
Ms Atherton served in the Intelligence Corps before working as a nurse and social worker.
In 2021 she voted against the Armed Forces Bill and resigned as a ministerial aide at the Foreign Office and the Government Equalities Office because she was in “stark disagreement with the Government” over using military courts for cases including rape and sexual assault.
She told GB News that she will “keep going for as long as I can”.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “It’s misleading to compare civilian and military systems that way.
“A far higher proportion of cases are referred for prosecution in the service justice system, resulting in greater convictions than those in the criminal justice system when looked at in proportion to allegations made to the civilian police.
“We have also invested to make changes to strengthen investigative expertise, skills and outcomes.”
He said that in the wake of Ms Atherton’s 2021 report, a “great deal of work was done” to both “improve how we proceed with allegations and also to ensure personnel are fully supported”.
He added: “To strengthen our processes, we launched the Defence Serious Crime Unit, which is independent of the chain of command.”
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