Report calls for greater accountability for UK Special Forces

  • Date

    Tue 21 Nov 23

General view showing the House of Parliament

Giving MPs access to classified information and the power to summon military chiefs before Parliament are some of the recommendations put forward by experts to prevent the UK’s Special Forces from becoming misused, overstretched and losing public trust.

The All-Party Parliament Group on Modern Conflict is using the recommendations laid out in a new report by Essex’s Human Rights Centre Clinic to push for a debate in the House of Lords on the accountability of the Special Forces.

The document states the UK’s “no comment” policy around its special forces has left it “lagging behind” allies such as the United States and Australia.

This, coupled with allegations of breaches of international law by the special forces, has created a gap which is posing risks to the Special Forces themselves, the report states.

It outlines a number of policy changes which can address the issue of accountability, including the introduction of a confidential reporting system for members of the Special Forces, the creation of an independent auditing agency and setting up a new dedicated Parliamentary Committee.

A research team of Principal Investigator, Dr Erin Pobjie, and postgraduate students, Hamza Bozkurt, Vanessa Topp, Jack Millar, and Greta Ciucci, conducted extensive interviews and reviews of existing policies before writing the report, focusing on both the UK and it allies.

They warn there is very little evidence to support the “flawed” perception that greater Parliamentary oversight of the Special Forces poses operational risks.

The team insist a greater balance between transparency and necessary tactical secrecy is needed to address the existing internal mechanisms which are “entirely lacking in transparency”.

Their full recommendations are:

  • Establishing a robust reporting mechanism which allows members of the special forces to confidentially report suspected wrongdoing without fear of reprisal.
  • Establishing an external auditor or independent agency which ensures special forces operations are carried out in accordance to domestic and international laws and conducts investigations into activities.
  • Establishing a dedicated Parliamentary committee which will scrutinise operations, budgets, policies and the administration of the special forces. The committee would be able to conduct special hearings and summon military chiefs to testify and give evidence.
  • Security clearance for some MPs would allow them access to classified information to bridge the gap between transparency and the need to keep information classified.
  • Training and development will be provided to auditors, members of the dedicated parliamentary committee, and MPs with security clearances to ensure they are fully briefed on operational protocols, international humanitarian laws and the ethical implications of special forces operations.

Dr Pobjie said: “These policy recommendations are based on existing checks and balances already being utilised to great effect by the US Senate and Australian government.

“Having both reactive and proactive oversight measures in place in the UK will help create a comprehensive and multi-layered system that respects the principles of transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

“This will lead to more effective and better ethical operations carried out by the special forces which will boost both public trust as well as safeguarding national security.”

The full report can be viewed here