The Ministry of Defence spent £20 million in a year on its own legal fees fighting soldiers’ compensation claims.
A leading lawyer for veterans accused the MoD of “treating our soldiers like the enemy” by contesting cases rather than settling them.
The huge sum spent on legal fees – disclosed following a Freedom of Information request – has sparked criticism that the MoD has adopted “aggressive” tactics intended to stall cases.
The taxpayers’ money spent on legal fees was unearthed by Hilary Meredith-Beckham, a solicitor specialising in military legal cases.
Her firm’s longest ongoing case is now in its eighth year.
The £20 million spent on legal fees by the MoD defending legal claims covers a 12-month period up until April 2022, the most recent year available.
In that time, the MoD settled 2,498 claims, the lowest number of cases closed in the past five years.
The vast majority of the claims are for personal injury cases or settlements for spouses for deaths in service.
In total the MoD paid out £135 million in total compensation and claimants’ costs, in addition to the £20 million spent on its own legal costs.
Ms Meredith-Beckham, founder and chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors, said: “The MoD is treating our soldiers like the enemy. They’re fighting cases they should be settling and putting our heroes through hell.”
She said that in civilian claims, lawyers were “more willing than ever to work together for the good of the injured person” with insurance companies often intervening to settle cases quicker. But, she went on: “The MoD remains stuck in the dark ages. They’re stubbornly defending claims and adopting aggressive and unnecessary stalling tactics.”
She accused the MoD of “defending its own mistakes”, adding: “The whole culture needs to change. The taxpayers’ money the MoD is wasting on legal costs would be placed in the hands of those who need it the most - our injured soldiers and veterans.”
She said that serious injury cases were taking an average of five years to conclude.
“Any sensible insurer would be negotiating a settlement but the MoD is continuing to fight. There is a total lack of independence in their approach,” she said.
The cost and time taken to settle claims is deeply embarrassing for the Government which has set a goal of making the UK the best country in the world to be a military veteran.
It adds to growing pressure on ministers to reform the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, which processes the vast majority of claims. Lawyers accuse the scheme of rejecting legitimate claims as well as causing delays.
The MoD has been approached for comment.