The commencement of the Overseas Operations Act begins.
Landmark legislation providing stronger legal protections for service personnel and veterans facing the threat of repeated investigations and potential prosecution takes effect today, ( July 1st). The Overseas Operations Act delivers on the Government’s manifesto commitment to tackle vexatious claims and end the cycle of re-investigations against our Armed Forces. Measures have been introduced in the Act in two parts. Part 1 of the Act introduces a new triple lock ensuring the unique context of overseas operations is considered when decisions are being made on whether to prosecute for alleged historical criminal offences.
Part 2 prevents civil claims from being brought after six years if they relate to overseas operations. These measures will also reduce criminal investigations and re-investigations from late civil claims. Together, both parts of the legislation will give greater certainty to service personnel and protect against endless legal claims decades after they return from an overseas operation.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
For too long, our service personnel and veterans faced endless legal cycles in connection with historical operations many years after the events in question.
That’s why, today, we have officially delivered on our commitment to reduce the uncertainty by providing a robust legal framework for dealing with allegations or claims from overseas conflicts.
This legislation also recognises the unique burden and pressures placed on our personnel, to whom we owe a vast debt of gratitude.
Minister for Defence People and Veterans Leo Docherty said:
I am proud to deliver on our manifesto commitment to protect service personnel and veterans from repeated legal investigations. This is a landmark moment for Defence as the Overseas Operations Act officially commences.
Our people deserve better, and for far too long they have experienced endless legal cycles, often without cause. This legislation will give them the protection they need to serve their country with confidence.
I hope the commencement of this legislation provides those who have served and their families with the reassurance they deserve.
The Overseas Operations Bill was introduced in March 2020, delivering on a manifesto commitment to protect service personnel and veterans. This commitment arose after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan gave rise to an unprecedented number of legal claims. The Iraq War, in particular, saw a claims industry spring up where unscrupulous lawyers promised individuals that they would be financially rewarded if they made allegations of wrongdoing against UK service personnel.
Nearly 1,000 compensation claims were made against the MOD for unlawful detention, injury and death, as well as 1,400 judicial review claims seeking investigations and compensation for human rights violations. Whilst claims were rightly investigated where it was appropriate to do so, this series of investigations and litigation, often many years after the event, cast a shadow over the lives of many innocent personnel and veterans. Around 70% of the allegations were sifted out where there was not a case to answer or it was considered not proportionate to conduct a full investigation.