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 Overseas Operations Bill must protect our troops

Labour’s Shadow Defence team is looking to forge a constructive consensus on legislation to protect our Armed Forces from vexatious claims following controversial Bill before Parliament.

Key provisions of the Overseas Operations Bill the Shadow Defence team will seek to change include:

  • The potential breach to the Armed Forces Covenant as the Bill, currently drafted, removes the court’s discretion to extend time for civil claims under s.7 of the Human Rights Act beyond six years, or twelve months from the date on which the key facts were known, whichever is the longer.
  • The risk of undermining our commitment to the Geneva Conventions, The Convention Against Torture and Rome Statue, as the Bill introduces a presumption not to prosecute crimes after 5 years from when the allegation took place, which includes torture and other war crimes. The treaties require states to investigate, and where appropriate, prosecute allegations of torture and war crimes. Any state that is unable or unwilling to so risks dragging their Armed Forces personnel in front of the International Criminal Court.
  • The Bill currently does nothing to propose reforms to the flawed investigations process. It is focussed on changes to prosecutions, when the Government’s own data shows that the 3,400 allegations made only led to seven prosecutions, of which all but one have been dropped, the rest would need to be addressed by changes to investigations practices.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey said:

“We all want the same thing. We want to protect British troops and we want to protect British values. And this should not mean a matter of party politics.

“We will seek time overhaul investigations, set up safeguards against vexatious claims consistent with our international obligations and guarantee troops retain their right to compensation claims when MoD failures lead to injury or death of our forces overseas.”

Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces, Stephen Morgan MP, added:

“Labour will always defend the interests of our Armed Forces who serve our country with courage and distinction. Those British service personnel who have been subject to vexatious legal claims and years of judicial reviews have been let down by successive governments. There is a problem for British troops but this Bill gets the solutions badly wrong.

It undermines Britain’s proud long-standing adherence to the Geneva Conventions, by bringing in a presumption against prosecution after five years which covers torture and other war crimes.

The bill risks UK service personnel being dragged to the international criminal court in the Hague, instead of being dealt with in our own British justice system.”