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Politics

Overseas Operations Bill To Be Discussed In Parliament

The bill means troops and veterans may be one step closer to stronger legal protection against vexatious claims.

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A bill aimed at tackling vexatious claims and ending the cycle of investigations against the Armed Forces will be discussed in Parliament on Wednesday.

The aim of the Overseas Operations Bill is to reduce uncertainty arising from historical allegations against serving personnel or veterans.

"This Government made a promise to the nation to protect service personnel and veterans from vexatious claims and endless investigations," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.

"We have not shied away from the challenge and today are one step closer to fulfilling that commitment.

"We all remember Phil Shiner, and the scores of allegations that have amounted to nothing over the years," he added.

"Our Armed Forces risk their lives to protect us and it is vital we continue to progress this legislation, providing certainty for the troops who find themselves on the frontline in the future."

The Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer, said: "This legislation is not about providing an amnesty or putting troops above the law, but protecting them from lawyers intent on rewriting history to line their own pockets.

"It will put an end to lawfare and make sure personnel and veterans are not repeatedly and indefinitely called upon to give evidence about events that happened years ago."

Mr Mercer added they are "one step closer to making the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran".

What does the bill do?

The key aim of the bill is to reduce the uncertainty faced by service personnel and veterans in relation to allegations for historical overseas operations.

The bill would make it exceptional for serving personnel and veterans to be prosecuted five years or more after an incident that took place during overseas operations.

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 an amendment to the Human Rights Act in law, limiting the time in which claims for human rights violations can be brought to six years after the alleged incident.

Personnel and veterans will not be prevented from bringing claims against the Ministry of Defence as the majority of these claims are already brought within six years.

The time limit for specific conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), will start from the date of knowledge of the condition.

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

Separate legislation will be introduced by the Government to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.

Why was the bill introduced?

The bill was introduced in March, after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan gave rise to an unprecedented number of legal claims.

Nearly 1,000 compensation claims were made against the Ministry of Defence for unlawful detention, injury and death.

A further 1,400 judicial review claims seeking investigations and compensation for human rights violations were also made against the MOD.

Around 70% of the allegations that were received by the independent Iraq Historic Allegations Team were dismissed as there was no case to answer.