“Wokka” is the RAF nickname for a Boeing Chinook helicopter (you’d know why if you heard one). It’s a heavy lift helicopter, vital for RAF logistical support in difficult territories such as, currently, Afghanistan.
So what is the connection between wokkas and lawyers? There are two cases involving RAF Chinooks that demonstrate that occasionally the use of appropriately experienced lawyers should not be avoided.
Our first example is the sad case of RAF Chinook HC2 ZD576, which crashed on 2 June 1994, killing all twenty five passengers and all four crew. The two pilots, Flt Lts Jonathan Tapper, 28, and Rick Cook, 30, were found by the RAF to have caused the accident by their “gross negligence“, despite that fact that the initial RAF Board of Inquiry did not find any evidence to prove pilot error to any standard (civil – balance of probability, criminal – beyond all reasonable doubt, gross negligence for deceased aircrew under RAF Manual of Flight Safety – absolutely no doubt whatsoever). From our reading of the case, it would appear that the air officers who reviewed the Board of Inquiry findings and made the gross negligence finding were either extremely badly advised on the legal aspects of what they were doing as reviewing officers, or, as we suspect, did not take appropriate legal advice. The result is that the families of the pilots continue to live under a deeply unsatisfactory finding, heavily criticised by, amongst others, the House of Lords. (For an excellent legal analysis, see the Opinion of Michael Powers QC and, for balance, the MoD reply.) As a result of the gross negligence finding, as Powers QC describes in his opinion, it is arguable that other possible causes of the crash of ZD576 were not properly investigated, including engine run away as a result of failure in the engine control system software, FADEC, which itself may not have been properly specified and certified to UK military standards for safety critical software.
The second example is the case of the procurement of eight RAF Chinook HC3s in 1995, which are only just coming into service by being retrofitted to be HC2/HC2As, despite being desperately needed to support operations in Afghanistan. The eight HC3s were supposed to cost £259 million and be in-service by November 1998 (defined as delivery of the first six). They were in fact delivered in 2001, but could not be granted airworthiness certificates as safety critical avionics software could not be certified to UK military standards, mostly as a result of serious omissions from the procurement contract (as determined by the National Audit Office). The final programme is likely to cost in the region of £500 million by the time the helicopters enter service. It is exactly these sorts of contractual omissions that experienced commercial/procurement lawyers involved in all stages of major procurement projects are trained to spot.