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Overseas Operations Bill completes passage in Parliament

The Government has delivered the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act to reduce the uncertainty faced by our service personnel and veterans around historical allegations during overseas operations.

The legislation, which has gained Royal Assent in Parliament, provides stronger legal protections for service personnel and veterans facing the threat of repeated investigations and potential prosecution. The Act delivers on the Government’s manifesto commitment to tackle vexatious claims and end the cycle of re-investigations against our Armed Forces.

Measures have been introduced in the Act in two parts – Part 1, which deals with criminal allegations and Part 2, which deals with civil claims.

Part 1 of the Act introduces a new triple lock that ensures the unique context of overseas operations is considered when decisions are being made about whether to prosecute for alleged historical criminal offences.

Part 2 prevents civil claims from being brought after six years if they relate to overseas operations. These measures will also reduce criminal investigations and re-investigations from late civil claims.

Together, both parts of the legislation will give greater certainty to service personnel and protect against endless legal claims decades after they return from an overseas operation.

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Leo Docherty said:

This is a landmark moment in defence as the Overseas Operations Bill achieves Royal Assent and I am proud to deliver on our manifesto commitment.

For too long, our brave service personnel and veterans have been subject to unfounded allegations after serving honourably and this legislation will give them the protection they need.

I hope today’s announcement provides those who have served and their families with the reassurance they so richly deserve.

The Overseas Operations Bill was introduced in March 2020 after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan gave rise to an unprecedented number of legal claims. The Iraq war in particular saw a claims industry spring up where unscrupulous lawyers promised individuals they would be financially rewarded if they made allegations of wrongdoing against service personnel.

This contributed to nearly 1,000 compensation claims against the MOD for unlawful detention, injury and death, as well as 1,400 judicial review claims seeking investigations and compensation for human rights violations. While legitimate claims were rightly investigated, and always will be, this series of drawn-out investigations and litigation has cast a shadow over the lives of innocent personnel and veterans living with such uncertainty.

Around 70 per cent of allegations received by the independent Iraq Historic Allegations Team were dismissed as there was no case to answer.

The substantive measures of the Overseas Operations Act will come into effect following the opening of the new Parliament.

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