Mulcahy v Ministry of Defence: CA 21 Feb 1996

A soldier in the Artillery Regiment was serving in Saudi Arabia in the course of the Gulf war. He was injured when he was part of a team managing a Howitzer, which was firing live rounds into Iraq, and he was standing in front of the gun when it was negligently fired by the gun commander. The Ministry of Defence sought to have the application struck out as disclosing no cause of action. The judge held at first instance that there should be a trial.
Held: The Court struck out the claim by application of combat immunity principles. Even on the facts pleaded, the plaintiff did not have a cause of action in negligence against the defendant. No duty of care can be owed by one soldier to another on the battlefield, nor can a safe system of work be required from any employer under such circumstances.
Neil LJ said: ‘Where . . the court is satisfied that additional facts will not change the framework of the claim and that the opposing arguments have been fully deployed the court should not shrink from deciding whether the application to strike out is well-founded in law. At the same time the Court must take account of Lord Browne-Wilkinson’s admonition that it is normally inappropriate to decide novel questions on hypothetical facts. But the novelty of the question of law is not an absolute barrier. It is to be remembered that the resolution of a question of law at an early stage in proceedings may result in a very substantial saving of costs.’
Neil LJ
Independent 29-Feb-1996, Times 27-Feb-1996, [1996] QB 732, [1996] 2 All ER 758, [1996] EWCA Civ 1323, [1996] 2 WLR 474
Human Rights Act 1998
England and Wales
CitedNissan v The Attorney General HL 11-Feb-1969
The plaintiff was a British subject with a hotel in Cyprus taken over by British troops on a peace-keeping mission. At first the men were there by agreement of the governments of Cyprus and the United Kingdom. Later they became part of a United . .
CitedBurmah Oil Company (Burma Trading) Limited v Lord Advocate HL 21-Apr-1964
The General Officer Commanding during the war of 1939 to 1945 ordered the appellants oil installations near Rangoon to be destroyed. The Japanese were advancing and the Government wished to deny them the resources. It was done on the day before the . .
CitedShaw Savill and Albion Company Ltd v The Commonwealth 1940
(High Court of Australia) The plaintiff owned a ship ‘The Coptic’ which was in a collision with His Majesties Australian Ship ‘Adelaide’. The plaintiff alleged that the collision resulted from the negligence of the defendant’s officers, saying the . .

Cited by:
CitedMatthews v Ministry of Defence HL 13-Feb-2003
The claimant sought damages against the Crown, having suffered asbestosis whilst in the armed forces. He challenged the denial to him of a right of action by the 1947 Act.
Held: Human rights law did not create civil rights, but rather voided . .
CitedBici and Bici v Ministry of Defence QBD 7-Apr-2004
Claimants sought damages for personal injuries incurred when, in Pristina, Kosovo and during a riot, British soldiers on a UN peacekeeping expedition fired on a car.
Held: The incidents occurred in the course of peace-keeping duties. It was . .
CitedSmith v The Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire Admn 11-Apr-2008
The claimant’s son had died of hyperthermia whilst serving in the army in Iraq. The parties requested a new inquisition after the coroner had rules that human rights law did not apply to servicemen serving outside Europe. Reports had been prepared . .
CitedDavies v Global Strategies Group Hong Kong Ltd and Another QBD 25-Sep-2009
The claimants alleged that the deceased had been shot while employed by the defendants working in Iraq. The defendants said that he had been an independent contractor for whom they did not have responsibility. . .
CitedSmith, Regina (on The Application of) v Secretary of State for Defence and Oxfordshire Assistant Deputy Coroner (Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening) SC 30-Jun-2010
The deceased soldier died of heat exhaustion whilst on active service in Iraq. It was said that he was owed a duty under human rights laws, and that any coroner’s inquest should be a fuller one to satisfy the state’s duty under Article 2.
CitedSmith and Others v Ministry of Defence QBD 30-Jun-2011
Claims were made after the deaths of British troops on active service in Iraq. In one case the deaths were from detonations of improvised explosive devices, and on others as a result of friendly fire. It was said that there had been a foreseeable . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 10 April 2021; Ref: scu.84111