Military personnel who commit serious offences will escape justice under legislation, MPs warn

Danielle Sheridan
·2-min read
JCHR said investigations into incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan had exposed wrongdoing - Lewis Whyld
JCHR said investigations into incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan had exposed wrongdoing - Lewis Whyld

Military personnel who commit serious offences will escape justice under proposed legislation, MPs have warned.

In a report on the looming Overseas Operations Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said the legislation breaches the UK's human rights obligations and creates unjustified barriers to prosecutions.

The Bill seeks to limit false and historical allegations arising from overseas operations by introducing a statutory presumption against prosecution, making it exceptional for personnel to be prosecuted five years or more after an incident.

However campaigners and some senior military figures have warned that it will create a presumption against prosecution of torture and other serious crimes, except rape and sexual violence.

Johnny Mercer, the Veterans Minister leading the Bill, previously wrote in The Telegraph that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are "not above the law" and will still be prosecuted for crimes five years after they take place. Mr Mercer said: “The UK will never put the Armed Forces above the law.

“On the contrary, we hold our people to the highest standards. Whenever the Armed Forces embark on operations outside the UK, our people and their chain of command are bound to abide by the criminal law of England and Wales, as well as international humanitarian law as set out in the Geneva Conventions.”

The committee said investigations into incidents arising from the UK's involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts had exposed wrongdoing, but that many had been inadequate - resulting in repeated probes to remedy the flaws of previous ones.

However, they said investigations will still be required despite the legislation, and warned that it does "nothing to address the issue of repeat investigations", making it "difficult to reconcile the contents of the Bill with its stated objective".

The MPs said that - at a minimum - the Bill should be amended so that the presumption against prosecution does not apply to torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.

The Bill is due to have its report stage and third reading in the Commons on Tuesday.