Overseas Operations Bill – Government snubs joint Committee on Human Rights

On 14 January 2021, the Government responded to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report on the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill – and refused to accept that the introduction of an absolute 6-year time limit on civil claims will restrict access to justice for troops serving overseas.

Hilary Meredith, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester, said she was “disappointed but not surprised” by the Government’s response.

“The proposed six-year longstop on civil claims in this legislation will significantly disadvantage those who have served abroad,” said Hilary.

“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.

“There is no justification for this apart from MoD penny pinching.”
Added Hilary:
“The UK legal system is renowned for being the best in the world. Why would we want to tie the hands of our Judges by preventing them from making decisions, based on merit, on a case-by case basis?
“Despite the rhetoric given there is no evidence of our courts allowing unwarranted extensions to limitation and these exceptions are extremely important in cases where there is a latent illness or mental health issues relating to service.
“There is no need to penalise our servicemen and women in this way.”
Expanding on why time-limits are unnecessary, Hilary added:

“There is in fact no need for a time limit at all as not only will it prejudice against our armed forces, stripping them of legal rights, but the MoD facing litigation from oversees should be geared up to recognise and strike out fraudulent cases at an early stage.

“For those facing the shocking multiple investigations under IHAT, it was not the timing of these accusations that was at fault – most allegations were brought within a year. The fault came with the tiple investigations with no new evidence and an attitude within civil servants in the MoD to prosecute no matter if there was any merit. The mind set was flawed by the sheer panic caused by one lawyer, Phil Shiner.

“Had Phil Shiner not been so feared by the MoD and clear, analytical thought processes had taken place, these accusations would have been seen for what they were, a greed driven fraudulent compensation claim on an industrial scale.

“Proper training within the MoD to identify and strike out these cases at an early point would have avoided the national scandal of IHAT with the legacy it has created.

“4,000 brave men and women defending our country have suffered unimaginable mental anguish and ill health, with families left broken as a result.”

Concluded Hilary:

“The Government has a track record of ignoring sensible recommendations to protect our servicemen and women.

“I’ll never forget its shameful refusal to accept the Defence Committee’s recommendation that the MoD should 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.

“Now are now seeing history repeat itself with the Overseas Operations Bill.”