The Overseas Operations Bill risks Britain’s reputation
UPDATED: 29 September
THE OOP was introduced to parliament last week and the controversial element is the introduction of a time limit to prosecutions of British troops who commit crimes while on active service overseas. A limit of 5 years will be introduced but also, and less reported, a six year limit on soldiers themselves being able to claim against the MoD for things like PTSD or hearing loss [Forces.net 22 September 2020]. The bill seeks to derogate the UK from the European Convention of Human Rights, see the bill itself (pdf).
It must be said straight away that the vast majority of service personnel behave honourably in the service of their country and literally risk their lives in so doing. Some receive serious injuries from things like IEDs which can result in the loss of limbs or blindness. The MoD has been culpable of sending troops into theatre with inadequate equipment which has resulted in needless additional injury.
The last few years have seen a series of allegations of ‘vexatious claims’ by legal firms allegedly putting together spurious or exaggerated ones. One such firm was run by Phil Shiner who’s licence to practice was taken away by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal [Law Society Gazette, 2 February 2017].
Despite this, we should be concerned as a nation if our soldiers are involved in torture or mistreatment of prisoners. These should always be investigated if only for the reason of why we go to war in the first place which is to promote our notions of justice, the rule of law and treating people decently regardless of race, religion or gender. We can hardly complain about countries such as Egypt, Iran, most of the Gulf states and China who do practise torture more or less routinely, if we ourselves do not root out such practices ourselves.
An inconvenient fact not it seems noted in our media yet, is that the UK is a signatory of the UN Convention Against Torture which provides an obligation on the UK not to apply statutes of limitation to allegations of torture and has a continuing obligation to investigate them which cannot be time-limited [Redress 18 March 2020].
THE British government has repeatedly stressed it does not engage in torture but was found to have allowed rendition flights to come through the UK. Documents were also found after the collapse of Libya which showed the government’s complicity in this practice. This has led to a case against the former Home Secretary Jack Straw.
Kate Allen has said in response to the bill:
What does it say about the UK’s armed forces to suggest that they need immunity from prosecution for acts of torture and other serious crimes? [Daily Mirror 22 September 2020]
That some – a minority – of our service people have behaved badly is not in dispute. That some legal cases may have been vexatious is also probably true. But the overriding considerations are the integrity of the nation and to be seen in the world as an exemplar of human rights and good behaviour. Apologists say it will still be possible to bring such a case after the period of 5 years has elapsed. Indeed, the wording of the bill does allow that. One wonders why in that case is there a need for the bill? To limit claims against the MoD has been described as ‘devastating’ by a partner in the law firm Hugh James [22 September 2020].
In a previous post, we drew attention to the Attorney General Suella Braverman’s seemingly relaxed view of the use of torture, an astonishing attitude for the nation’s most senior law officer to have. Our attitude to this abhorrent practice should be unequivocal. We do not do it, we do not condone it and if any of our people engage in it, we will investigate and prosecute regardless if five or more years have gone by.
UPDATE: 29 September 2020. In the above link to our post about the Attorney General, we took at face value the background claimed by Suella Braverman. These claims have been investigated by the Observer journalist Nick Cohen who has cast doubt on many of them. He and other journalists have tried to authenticate these various claims of relevant experience and have so far, been unable to do so.