Wrexham MP quits government over plan to keep sexual offences against female troops within military justice system
The Conservative MP for Wrexham has resigned as a ministerial aide to vote against the UK Government over plans to keep sexual offences within the military justice system.
Sara Atherton, who is 54, joined the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office as an aide this year after working at the Welsh Office.
But she said that she disagreed with ministers over whether the most serious charges facing troops, including rape and sexual assault, should be removed from military courts into the civilian system.
She voted against the government on the issue when the Armed Forces Bill was brought before the Commons.
Sara Atherton left school at 16 and signed up for the army, working for the Intelligence Corps.
“I firmly believe that serious sexual offences should not be heard within the military justice system, having heard testimony from many serving women and veterans as part of my inquiry into women’s experiences in the Armed Forces,” she said.
She was subsequently praised by fellow Conservative MP Johnny Mercer.
“Sarah Artherton has lost her role as a Ministerial Aide because she could not support the Defence Secretary – against all advice – keeping serious sexual offences in the Military Justice system,” he said.
“She is the first woman from the ranks to make it to Parliament. I’m very proud of her. And she is a cracking example of why we need to change the female experience in the military, and why more great military females need to come to Parliament.
“Her integrity puts her head and shoulders above most of her male ‘veteran’ colleagues.”
The Ministry of Defence had announced at the end of November that complaints of sexual offences in the armed forces would be dealt with outside the chain of command in future, but that military police would retain the right to investigate allegations of rape.
The government commitment came in response to a parliamentary inquiry, chaired by Sarah Atherton, into the experiences of women who serve or have served in the armed force.
The inquiry criticised the government for not responding to calls that only civilian forces should investigate allegations of rape and sexual abuse.
Sarah Atherton, the Conservative MP who chaired the inquiry, said she believed “the fact that a servicewoman can now make a sexual complaint safe in the knowledge that her direct chain of command won’t be handling it is a huge step forward”.
But she added that it was “disappointing” that the MoD had refused to remove rape inquiries from the court martial system “despite clear evidence that the current system is failing to deliver justice”.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.