Politics

Overseas Operations Bill: 'Amendments Will Be Made' By Government

The MOD has confirmed changes will be made so that torture, genocide and crimes against humanity are excluded from future legal safeguards.

The Government has agreed to make amendments to the Overseas Operations Bill, following a vote in the House of Lords last week.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has confirmed changes will be made to the proposed legislation, so that torture, genocide and crimes against humanity are excluded from future legal safeguards.

Last week, the Lords voted in favour of those offences not being given legal protection.

The version of Overseas Operations Bill approved by the Government outlines that personnel will not be prosecuted five years after certain offences are alleged to have taken place, unless there are "exceptional" circumstances.

Peers in the House of Lords also backed changes aimed at preventing personnel facing delayed and repeated investigations into allegations arising from foreign deployments, and removing a planned six-year time limit on troops bringing civil claims against the MOD.

A demand by former service chiefs for greater support to be given to military personnel facing allegations linked to overseas operations, placing a duty of care on the MOD, was also passed.

The House of Commons, which voted the Overseas Operations Bill through last year, will consider the House of Lords' amendments tomorrow.

The Government introduced the Overseas Operations Bill with the aim of limiting false and historical allegations against service personnel and veterans in relation to overseas operations.

Watch: Lord Robertson last week warned the Overseas Operations Bill risks undermining 'some of the most basic international legal standards'.

While not an absolute ban on historical prosecutions, the Government has wanted the bill to limit vexatious allegations arising from overseas operations by introducing a statutory presumption against prosecution, making it exceptional for personnel to be prosecuted five years or more after an incident.

All overseas operations would continue to be governed by international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.

However, the Overseas Operations Bill has faced criticism for not excluding war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture from its scope, as it did for rape and sexual violence, with opponents to the proposed legislation warning it could break Britain's international legal obligations in its current form.

Labour's former Defence Secretary Lord Robertson, who previously served as NATO Secretary General, led calls last week in the Lords for the bill not to cover offences including genocide and torture among its legal safeguards.

An MOD spokesperson said: "Whilst we maintain nothing in this bill prevents those accused of breaking the law from being prosecuted, we have listened to concerns, and in order to send a powerful message to the international community amendments will be made to the Overseas Operations Bill.

"Excluded offences in Part One of the bill will be expanded to include torture, genocide and crimes against humanity."

The Government says it has listened to the House of Lords' views and has tabled an amendment to replace that proposed by Lord Robertson, in order to offer peers reassurance over its pledge to the rule of law.

It will seek to overturn amendments made by the Lords on investigations, excluding claims from service personnel from the limitation longstops, and the introduction of a statutory duty of care for service personnel and veterans in relation to legal proceedings arising from overseas operations.