Hilary Meredith has repeated her call for new legislation to protect service personnel and veterans from prosecution in the line of duty after it emerged that British veterans could face allegations of wrongdoing from decades-old “end-of-Empire operations”.
The MoD’s former legal chief has warned that claims against Britons who served in Malaysia and Cyprus more than half a century ago could emerge after an attempt by 40,000 Kenyans to sue the government for alleged maltreatment in the 1950s, he said.
The case was dismissed by the High Court last week, but critics have raised concerns after it engulfed the government in legal wrangling for five years and cost the taxpayer millions of pounds. It is thought to be one of the longest civil trials in legal history.
Speaking to The Times, Jonathan Duke-Evans, who ran the MoD’s litigation policy unit until last year, said that the Kenya case had raised concerns that “large numbers of new claims from other end-of-Empire operations many decades ago would suddenly emerge from places like Cyprus and Malaysia, and that the evidence to defend the cases would no longer exist”.
He added: “It’s almost impossible to guarantee fair outcomes in cases which arose out of military operations so many years ago, and the process can be immensely stressful to the former soldiers involved. I would like to see steps taken to prevent this kind of legal harassment of veterans decades after the events concerned when it is so difficult to establish the truth.”
Veterans of campaigns in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan are already facing criminal allegations.
Hilary Meredith, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester believes new legislation is needed to protect service personnel and veterans from prosecution in the line of duty.
Hilary has been working with a range of service personnel, veterans, charities, academics and politicians in recent months.
After more than fifty separate meetings with interested parties, she has now drafted an outline of how the new legislation would work in order for it to be taken forward for further consultation by the Government or through a Private Members’ Bill in the Commons.
Commenting on her proposals, Hilary Meredith said: “In recent times military service personnel have been exposed to individual prosecution like never before – in particular historic cases from Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. Whilst each set of circumstances and reasons behind these potential prosecutions differ, changes to the law are necessary in order to encompass all circumstances.
“New legislation is necessary in order to provide some form of protection for our serving soldiers and veterans. It is not intended to act as defence to those who act outside of the line of duty on a violent frolic of their own.”
Hilary is backing a Bill by Conservative MP, Richard Benyon – the Armed Forces (Statute of Limitations) Bill – calling for a statute of limitations on prosecuting British Soldiers involved in past conflicts. She believes cases against British troops for their conduct during combat should only be brought within a 10-year time limit.
In addition to a statute of limitations, Hilary says service personnel and veterans need further legislative protection. She is also calling for combat immunity to be enshrined into criminal law as a partial defence to prosecution and for the MoD to be stripped of its historic immunity from prosecution when personnel are killed during training as a result of a serious failing in its duty of care through a reckless disregard for life.