Johnny Mercer speaking with Union Flags behind him 290120 CREDIT PA
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Comment: Johnny Mercer MP On Overseas Operations Bill

Johnny Mercer MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, has written for Forces News about the Overseas Operations Bill.

Johnny Mercer speaking with Union Flags behind him 290120 CREDIT PA

Written by Johnny Mercer MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans and Minister for Veterans' Affairs.

All the way along, I’ve been clear with MPs, veterans and personnel that the reason this Government is introducing an Overseas Operations Bill is simple.

We must have stronger protections for proud warriors facing the threat of legal proceedings into overseas operations long past.

So it was with some frustration that I read a recent report suggesting other motivations at work.

In the process, the piece made several misleading and damaging allegations. Today, I want to set the record straight.

First, this Bill has nothing to do with cost-cutting or reducing legal bills.

It is about taking steps to help stop the endless cycle of investigations over historic allegations. 

And it is about providing our people with greater certainty by creating a better legal framework for dealing with allegations of misconduct during any future overseas conflicts.

I don’t recognise the figure of liability claims brought against the MOD [Ministry of Defence] that have been recently reported. But, even if I did, it makes the basic error of failing to compare like with like. 

Our Bill is about overseas operations. The clue is in the title. So we are not talking about more than 20,000 employer liability claims but an estimated 552 in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan; an estimated 94% of which were made within a six-year timeframe. 

Second, this Bill will not stop personnel, veterans, and their relatives from bringing claims against the MOD.

It is true that we are limiting the time period for bringing civil or human rights claims against the Ministry of Defence relating to overseas operations to six years. But again context matters.

As I have said, an estimated 94% of the hundreds of personal injury claims received from our service personnel were made within a six-year timeframe. 

And the countdown clock for personal injury claims doesn’t automatically tick down from the date of an incident itself but can be from the date of knowledge.

So, in the case of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], which is often not discovered until much later, the period will only start from the point of diagnosis and only then if the person knows there is a link with their service.

Fairness remains at the heart of this Bill. I’m sick and tired of seeing proud veterans worn down with worry over fears of prosecution for events they’d tried to put behind them.

In 21st Century Britain, no-one – especially those who have laid their lives on the line for our country – should have to wait decades for the wheels of justice to turn. 

We can’t rewrite the past but we can make sure there’s a better future on offer for those who serve their country. That’s what this Bill is about.

Cover image: Johnny Mercer MP (Picture: PA).