Inquest begins for murdered soldiers' families

THE families of military personnel killed while serving have few ways to express concerns about investigations into their loved ones' deaths, a coronial inquest has heard.

The public inquest into the murder of Lance-Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Private Robert Poate and Sapper James Martin, who were killed when a rogue Afghanistan soldier opened fire on them in August, 2012, heard families of the deceased had expressed concerns about military investigation process.

But the military had few avenues to address family concerns and the Coroners Court was seen as an avenue for issues to be raised.

The inquest heard the existing state-based coronial system had to "jump through hoops" to get information regarding military operations which the defence force redacted and vetted.

Counsel assisting the coroner Peter De Waard said families of the three soldiers had expressed concern at the independence of the army inquest officer who carried out the military investigation.

Mr De Waard also questioned the military decision to use a single inquest officer rather than a Chief of Defence Force Commission of Inquest which a civilian judge would chair.

Colonel James Wardell told the court the Inquest Officer Inquest model was chosen due to its speed and price. He said a Commission of Inquest could cost up to $1.7 million.

He said, in comparison, an inquest officer could provide recommendations to the defence force quickly, which was seen as important in the case of an "insider attack" in order to adjust any systemic failings.

However, the officer who conducted that investigation cannot be called as he has the "immunity of a High Court judge" regarding his investigation.

Col Wardill said the military often did not use tribunals for operational deaths as "however tragic, the death of servicemen in Afghanistan was not unexpected".

The court heard a NATO Joint Casualty Assessment Team initially investigated the three deaths.

That report could not be placed before the court as the Australian Defence Force did not own it. The inquest is set to continue until next Tuesday.

- APN NEWSDESK



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