Hilary Meredith highlights glaring omissions in Overseas Operations Bill in evidence to Scrutiny Committee

There are a range of glaring omissions in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill while time limits in Section 2 of the Bill should be scapped entirely and veterans under criminal investigation should have access to an independent advocate – according to evidence provided to today’s Scrutiny Committee by lawyer Hilary Meredith.

Addressing MPs, Hilary, Chair of law firm Hilary Meredith Solicitors, said:

“It doesn’t make sense to have a Bill that puts civil and criminal law together.

“First and foremost, we need to review the UK’s systemic failings which produced numerous and prolonged criminal investigations against individual members of the armed forces on operations overseas.

“We also need to ensure a speedy trial and resolution of any criminal allegations against individual members of the armed forces as a result of operations overseas.”

Calling for the time limits in Section 2 of the Bill to be scrapped, Hilary added:

“There is no requirement to place a time limit on civil compensation claims brought by foreign nationals against the MoD as a corporation if a robust system of investigation is in place.

“If this section is not required, neither is the ‘equality’ argument of subjecting our own members of the armed forces to reduced time limits if injured or killed overseas.

“The proposed six-year longstop on civil claims in this legislation will significantly disadvantage those who have served abroad – particularly service personnel and veterans who suffer from latent diseases.

“It is totally unacceptable for the Government to legislate to deny those who put their lives on the line for our country overseas the same employer liability rights as the UK civilians they defend. The section must be scrapped – it clearly breaches the Armed Forces Covenant.”

Hilary was highly critical of previous criminal investigations into service personnel and veterans.

“The criminal investigations that took place on the back of Phil Shiner’s false civil claims in Iraq were shambolic,” she said. “The support our veterans received was non-existent.”

Moving forward, Hilary is calling for the appointment of an independent advocate from the Bar Council or Law Society to advise and represent military personnel and veterans who face prosecution as a result of operations overseas.

She is also urging extreme caution and a presumption against prosecution “when allegations are based on the back of a compensation cheque carrot.”

Continued Hilary:

“The military find it particularly difficult to locate and instruct lawyers outside the military environment. They do not know who to turn to for support and assistance and quite often fear they are breaching the official secrets Act by talking to a civilian lawyer.

“There is frequently a conflict between the MoD and the individual service personnel or veteran which then requires separate representation. Details should be widely publicised with emergency contact details. This service should be paid for by the state and free to serving military and veterans.”

Hilary Meredith’s call for a complete overhaul of the military criminal investigation system includes:

– A review of the systemic failings which produced numerous and prolonged investigations – which by their very nature, became historic – against individual members or the armed forces on operations overseas.
– A review of the Royal Military Police’s capabilities to investigate potential accusations of alleged war crimes and breaches of the Human Rights Act on overseas operations with particular attention to conflict zones where “control” exists or is likely to exist.
– A review of the MoD’s and Government Legal Department’s understanding of and ability to, identify and eradicate fraudulent civil claims resulting from operations overseas with training implemented where necessary.
– A review of the MoD’s stance on the payment of commercial settlements to foreign nationals as a result of operations overseas (£145,000 was paid to the family of Saeed Shabram in “compensation”, whilst Major Robert Campbell battled for 17 years with 11 investigations to clear his name, unfunded and unsupported by MoD).
– Reporting to the government where improvements can be made and training required.