Overseas Operations Bill – House of Commons debate demonstrates why legislation needs urgently amending

In the House of Commons yesterday, Labour MP John Healey tabled an urgent question asking the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer to update the House on the Overseas Operations Bill’s impact on the rights of British troops serving overseas to bring civil liability claims against the Ministry of Defence and its implications for the Armed Forces Covenant.

The Overseas Operations (service personnel and veterans) Bill 2020, imposes an “absolute maximum of six years” for bringing civil claims in connection with overseas operations.

Commenting on the debate, Hilary Meredith, CEO at military law firm Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester said:

“While Johnny Mercer said that none of the measures will prevent the Ministry of Defence from being held to account for any wrongdoing, it is crystal clear that this legislation needs to be amended.

“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 go on to suffer PTSD, which is often not diagnosed until several years after the event.

“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 ‘no disadvantage’ direction in the Military Covenant is also being overlooked.

“While I welcome legislation to protect our veterans from the relentless cycle of criminal reinvestigations – and Johnny Mercer has made giant strides with this – the Government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

“The solution is very simple – introduce a long stop on criminal prosecutions and leave civil time scales as they are. Soldiers should not be penalised because they have served overseas. It is totally unfair.

“The Veterans Minister is also confusing the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, which is a pension scheme, with the rights of soldiers to litigate through the courts.”

Continued Hilary:

“Under section 11 of the Limitation Act 1980, personal injury claims, including PTSD, must normally be brought within three years of the date of the incident, or the date on which an individual became aware of a cause of action. Section 33 of the 1980 Act allows courts to extend the three-year period if it would be equitable to allow a claim to proceed, and prescribes a range of factors for the court to take into consideration in reaching such a decision.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the current system of discretion by the courts, where Judges have the experience to deal with these matters.”