Sir Humphrey debunks a recent story in the Telegraph which makes a big deal about the British military hiring more lawyers at the same time as they are disbanding front-line units:
The Forces have always needed effective legal support, and arguably the tiny number of military lawyers provides an utterly vital capability. Its not just about the provision of support to people who understand the arcane intricacies of a military law system which is very complex, and very different to our normal law — though this is extremely important. It’s about the provision of people who bring a vital advisory role to Commanders on the ground, and the wider MOD.
Similarly, once the direct fighting is over, UK troops often find themselves operating in a very strange environment — one only has to look at Iraq in the aftermath of the initial war fighting phase to realise that its not a clear cut place to operate. The advice offered by in theatre legal personnel can often make a huge difference in helping commanders understand their freedom to operate, and what genuine constraints may affect them. For instance, on a single tour in Iraq, units may have found themselves conducting everything from searches, checking for IEDS, detaining known individuals through deliberate operations, and then engaging in combat — quite possibly in the same day. The requirement for modern troops to adapt very quickly to all manner of situations places a huge burden on them — it is important that they get the best possible guidance to know they are acting correctly. Certainly in this authors experience on both TELIC and HERRICK, the LEGAD advice was often one of the most critical parts of any potential operation.
The same lawyers provide vital services back home — in the Royal Navy for instance, there are a range of in house experts on the Law of the Sea, international maritime disputes and territorial waters and the like. This may sound questionable, but when the RN is daily conducting counter piracy and counter narcotics operations across the globe, or sailing in possible maritime flashpoints where different nations have very different interpretations of maritime boundaries, having a good legal understanding on hand of the art of the possible is absolutely vital.