Key role for attorney general in future prosecutions of Armed Forces veterans

The Government’s chief legal adviser will have to consent to prosecuting Army veterans for alleged historical offences during overseas operations, ministers have said.

New legislation will give a key role to the attorney general.

Five years after the incident, it will be “exceptional” for a prosecutor to order a prosecution, the Ministry of Defence said.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “For decades, the men and women of our Armed Forces have been faced with the prospect of repeated investigations by inquest and police – despite the vast majority having acted in accordance with the rule of law and often at great personal risk.

“That is why the Government will today legislate to protect our veterans against repeated re-investigations where there is no new and compelling evidence against them, and to end vexatious claims against our Armed Forces.”

The law follows operations in recent years giving rise to an “unprecedented” number of legal claims, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

It will require a court to consider the operational context when deciding whether to extend the normal time limits for bringing civil claims for personal injury or death and for making claims under the Human Rights Act (HRA).

The Iraq war resulted in nearly 1,000 compensation claims against the MoD for unlawful detention, personal injury and death.

There were also approximately 1,400 judicial review claims seeking investigations and compensation for a variety of alleged human rights violations.

As part of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, serving and former Armed Forces personnel will have more legal protection from prosecution for alleged historical offences, the Government said.

Minister for defence people and veterans Johnny Mercer said: “Today we deliver on our promise to tackle vexatious claims and end the cycle of re-investigations against our Armed Forces.

“This package of legal measures will reduce the unique pressure faced by personnel who perform exceptional feats in incredibly difficult and complex circumstances.

“This important next step has gone further than any other government before to protect military personnel who put their life in jeopardy to protect us.”

The legislation does not cover allegations of human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Liberty, the human rights organisation, criticised the Government’s move to block prosecution of soldiers accused of “serious” human rights violations as a distraction from the long-term failures of the MoD that will put soldiers and civilians at risk.

Clare Collier, advocacy director at Liberty, said: “A war crime does not stop being a war crime after five years.

“This Bill is not a win for either civilians or soldiers.

“It’s a distraction to hide the fact the MoD has failed, and continues to fail, to provide effective investigations into allegations of wrongdoing.”

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