Government Pledges To End 'Cycle' Of Vexatious Claims Against Veterans

Separate plans are being drawn up to cover personnel who served in Northern Ireland.

The Government has pledged to "end the cycle of re-investigations" against military personnel and veterans, in the form of new legislation.

The new bill, called the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, is designed to introduce a time limit on prosecution for alleged human rights offences committed overseas.

Separate plans are being drawn up to cover those who served in Northern Ireland.

Following the Iraq War, there were nearly 1,000 claims for compensation against British personnel, with allegations of unlawful detention, injury and death.

Many were brought years later, with the vast majority proven to be false claims. 

Now, the Government says it will set a five-year limit on prosecutions against troops who have served overseas, unless there is compelling new evidence is available.

The new law will require courts to consider the "operational context" when deciding whether to extend the normal time limits for bringing civil claims for personal injury or death and for bringing claims under the Human Rights Act (HRA) in connection with overseas operations.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "For decades the men and women of our Armed Forces have been faced with the prospect of repeated investigations by inquest and police - despite the vast majority having acted in accordance with the rule of law and often at great personal risk.

"That is why the Government will today legislate to protect our veterans against repeated reinvestigations where there is no new and compelling evidence against them, and to end vexatious claims against our Armed Forces."

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Johnny Mercer said: "This package of legal measures will reduce the unique pressure faced by personnel who perform exceptional feats in incredibly difficult and complex circumstances."

Burned out houses in Conway Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland during the Troubles
The Government says cases involving Northern Ireland will be addressed separately (Picture: PA).

As part of the new legislation, there will also be a six-year limit for any civil case involving personal injury or death.

Alongide the new Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, the Government is also announcing separate plans which it says will protect veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

The legislation will see almost 2,000 unsolved cases from the Troubles closed.

The so-called 'legacy plan' will mean only a small number of cases will receive full inquiries, ending what ministers say is a "cycle of re-investigations".

Human rights groups have criticised the new legislation, claiming only a small proportion of claims against the Ministry of Defence (MOD) actually stemmed from the Iraq War, and that most come from service personnel themselves.

A spokesperson for Liberty said: "A war crime does not stop being a war crime after five years.

"This bill is not a win for either civilians or soldiers.

"It’s a distraction to hide the fact the MOD has failed and continues to fail, to provide effective investigations into allegations of wrongdoing."

The Irish government says it cannot support the new legislation on Northern Ireland.

The Government meanwhile says the new law proves its commitment to the Armed Forces and the unique pressures they face while serving overseas.