Overseas Operations Bill will allow MoD to “manipulate and stall” civil claims says Hilary Meredith

The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill 2020 will allow the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to manipulate and stall the legal process until valid civil claims are thrown out all-together, says Hilary Meredith.

The Overseas Operations Bill, currently making its way through the House of Lords (Report Stage, 13 April 2021) imposes an “absolute maximum of six years” for bringing civil claims in connection with overseas operations.

“There is no other scenario similar to the unique circumstances of a military claim for injury or death in service,” explained Hilary, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester.

“When bringing a military claim, the cards are already stacked in the MoD’s favour.

“The MoD is the employer, the paymaster, the medical provider, the trainer, the investigator and the conclusion maker. It also employs the vast majority of the witnesses while crown immunity makes it exempt from prosecution.”

Explaining how the civil claims process works for service personnel, Hilary added:

“Anyone bringing a civil claim is reliant on the MoD co-operating while accidents overseas make it even harder to gather evidence.

“The initial investigation will always start with the service medical records.

“Pre-Covid, it was taking between 8 and 10 months to obtain service medical records from the Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow.

“These records, unlike in the Navy and RAF, are not electronic. They’re still maintained and supplied in hard copy. I currently have clients who have been waiting over 18 months for their records.”

Continued Hilary: “The legal system requires a medical report based on a consultation with the injured service person alongside consideration of their medical records.

“The process to access to justice cannot commence until the MoD has provided the relevant medical details.

“At present, Section 33 of the Limitation Act provides the court discretion to override the current three-year limit. However, the Overseas Operations Bill will introduce a longstop restricting to an absolute maximum of six years the time limit for bringing civil claims for personal injury or death and for bringing HRA claims in connection with overseas operations.

“In order to address the imbalance in this David and Goliath battle, the Overseas Operations Bill must allow for judicial discretion to maintain extensions to limitation for service personal injured or killed overseas.”

Concluded Hilary: “Let’s not be naive. The MoD is more than capable of manipulating the claims process. The Overseas Operations Bill will allow it to do just that.”