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Chair Tobias Ellwood writes to MoD seeking clarity on legislation on the prosecution of service personnel and veterans

6 May 2020

The Chair of the Defence Committee, the Rt Hon. Tobias Ellwood MP, has written to the Ministry of Defence following their response to the Committee's report from the last Parliament: ‘Drawing a line – Protecting Veterans by a Statute of Limitations'.

This report concluded that the legal framework underpinning military operations is unclear, that service personnel should be protected by a qualified Statute of Limitatiodns from repeated investigation and prosecution, and that legislation on the issue should be subject to enhanced parliamentary scrutiny.

Issues requiring further clarity

The Defence Committee is calling for further clarity from the MoD on a number of issues, including:

  • The likelihood that the provisions set out in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill will lead to prosecutions.
  • Whether the factors outlined in the Overseas Operations Bill are comprehensive enough for a prosecutor to take a decision to prosecute.
  • The likelihood of successful appeal in the event that the Attorney General refuses to grant consent for prosecution.
  • The Government's strategy in the case of a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that new legislation conflicts with our Convention obligations.
  • Whether discussions have taken place with the International Criminal Court.
  • What discussions the Government has had with parties in Northern Ireland.

The report, and subsequent correspondence, follow debate surrounding the prosecution of service personnel and veterans for historic allegations, particularly of those who served in Northern Ireland.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Defence Committee, the Rt Hon. Tobias Ellwood MP, said:

“Our forces play an integral role in maintaining the security and stability of our nation and over the last few weeks have fought on the frontline in the battle against coronavirus.

“Service personnel are required to display loyalty and respect, exercise discipline and self-control, and exhibit courage in the face of adversity. These values form the bedrock of our forces. Any allegations of behaviour that departs from these values risks undermining the military's critical work and the sacrifices that all soldiers make.

“If an individual commits crimes, in our name and in uniform, there must be a thorough, proportionate investigation. However, no service personnel should be stuck in a constant state of limbo, subject to relentless and repeated investigations. Instances such as these indicate a dysfunctional legal system, with unduly complex laws that are far too subjective and open to interpretation.

“The Defence Committee welcomes this legislation but remains concerned that continued ambiguity leaves service personnel vulnerable. Our armed forces deserve absolute clarity when it comes to legislation and must feel supported by military organisations themselves when navigating the legal system.

“The Committee is also calling on the Government to accelerate work on its proposals for Northern Ireland, as those who face allegations of wrongdoing there are left in a state of uncertainty.”

Further information

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