Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which is due to have its Second Reading in the Commons on Wednesday 23rd September.
Our armed forces are world-leading. They set themselves the highest operational standards and expect the best from their people. When our forces have failed to meet these standards, it is therefore right that they are held to account and justice is delivered for the victims.
I believe we owe it to our armed forces to protect service personnel and veterans from vexatious legal claims, and repeated and unfounded allegations about their conduct, whilst preserving the principles of justice which they have sacrificed so much to defend.
I share your concern that the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill would undermine Britain’s leadership role in the world, contravening our international obligations, including the Convention Against Torture.
Judge Jeffrey Blackett, Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces, has raised significant concerns about the Bill and said that the legislation as drafted is “ill-conceived” and could bring the UK Armed Forces into disrepute.
I am also very concerned about the disadvantage caused by the bill to personnel who serve overseas, by blocking any injury or negligence claim against the Ministry of Defence if they miss a hard six-year deadline. In this respect the bill may breach the Armed Forces Covenant.
My Labour colleagues and I will be supporting efforts to press the Government on these concerns at Second Reading.
It is not too late for the Government to think again about the best way to protect service personnel from vexatious litigation while also ensuring that those who commit serious crimes during operations are prosecuted and punished appropriately.