The Overseas Operations Bill for service personnel and veterans will be laid before Parliament today for its Second Reading.
Stronger legal protections for service personnel and veterans facing the threat of repeated investigations and potential prosecution will be one step closer as the Overseas Operations Bill is debated in Parliament today (Wednesday 23 September).
The Bill delivers on the Government’s manifesto commitment to tackle vexatious claims and end the cycle of reinvestigations against our brave Armed Forces. The legislation will introduce a range of measures to reduce uncertainty arising from historical allegations and create a better legal framework to deal with claims from future overseas conflicts.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
The Overseas Operations Bill was introduced in March after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan gave rise to an unprecedented number of legal claims. The Iraq war in particular saw a claims industry spring up where unscrupulous lawyers promised individuals they would be financially rewarded if they made allegations of wrongdoing against service personnel.
This contributed to nearly 1000 compensation claims against the MoD for unlawful detention, injury and death, as well as 1400 judicial review claims seeking investigations and compensation for human rights violations. While legitimate claims were rightly investigated, and always will be, this series of drawn-out investigations and litigation has cast a shadow over the lives of innocent personnel and veterans living with such uncertainty.
Around 70% of allegations received by the independent Iraq Historic Allegations Team were dismissed as there was no case to answer.
Minister for Defence People and Veterans Johnny Mercer said:
The Bill reduces the uncertainty faced by service personnel and veterans in relation to allegations arising from historical overseas operations by introducing a statutory presumption against prosecution. This means it will be exceptional for them to be prosecuted five years or more after an incident. When coming to a prosecution decision, the independent prosecutor must weigh up the adverse impact of overseas operations on service personnel and – where there has been a previous investigation and no compelling new evidence – the public interest in cases coming to a timely conclusion. If their decision is to go forward to prosecution, they will have to seek the consent of the Attorney General to do so.
The Bill also delivers a significant amendment to the Human Rights Act (HRA) in law, by helping to put an end to the industrial scale of litigation by limiting the time in which claims for human rights violations can be brought.
Legislation will restrict the court’s discretion to allow claims to be brought after the normal time limits and make sure civil claims for personal injury and death and claims for HRA violations are brought within six years. Approximately half of the claims by Iraqi nationals were brought more than six years after the alleged incident and would have been caught by these longstops.
Crucially, these changes will not prevent personnel and veterans bringing claims against the MoD. The vast majority of these claims are already brought within six years and the time limit for certain conditions, such as PTSD, will start from the date of knowledge of the condition.
Finally, according to the government the Bill will ensure that all future governments are compelled to consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to significant overseas military operations. All overseas operations will continue to be governed by international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.
The Government say they will introduce separate legislation to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland in a way that focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims, and ends the cycle of reinvestigations into the Troubles in NI that has failed victims and veterans alike. We remain committed to moving this forward as quickly as possible.