Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more
House of Commons Hansard
x
Protection for British Service Personnel
04 September 2018
Volume 646

The petition of Residents of West Oxfordshire,

Declares that urgent action must be taken by the Government to protect British Military veterans from spurious historic allegations and repeated prosecutions.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Government to immediately legislate for the Statute of Limitations that will prevent British Military veterans of the conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas combat operations suffering spurious and vexatious historic allegations and repeated prosecutions.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Robert Courts, Official Report, 25 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 726.]

[P002158]

The petition of residents of Aldershot and the wider United Kingdom,

Declares that urgent action must be taken by the Government to protect British Military veterans from spurious historic allegations and repeated prosecutions.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Government to immediately legislate for the Statute of Limitations that will prevent British Military veterans of the conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas combat operations suffering spurious and vexatious historic allegations and repeated prosecutions.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Leo Docherty, Official Report, 26 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 862.]

[P002159]

Observations from the Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster):

The Ministry of Defence is acutely aware of the strain that criminal and judicial investigations place on service personnel and veterans. We take seriously our duty of care, and provide appropriate legal and pastoral support to those facing such investigations as a result of their service.

We rightly expect the highest standards of our service personnel and it goes without saying that the vast majority meet those expectations while performing a difficult job in the most difficult circumstances. But, like all citizens, our service personnel are subject to the law. In terms of investigations, there is a statutory obligation on the service police to investigate credible allegations of criminal conduct. In addition, there are circumstances in which the UK is required under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to investigate.

We nevertheless acknowledge the growing strength of feeling in Parliament and elsewhere that our service personnel and veterans should be afforded greater legal protection. As Defence Ministers have repeatedly made clear, nobody wants to see serving personnel or veterans facing repeated investigations many years after the event.

It is useful to remember that the circumstances in which our armed forces have operated over the last few decades have varied considerably, in terms of geographic location, the nature of the operations and the political and legal contexts in which these operations have been conducted. These variations create challenges when seeking to adopt solutions that apply effectively across the full range of operational situations, both domestic and overseas. Even if an all-embracing statute of limitations were legally possible, the risk of significant unintended consequences would be high, given that it would allow the International Criminal Court to assume jurisdiction for many alleged crimes where the limitation period barred our authorities from prosecuting.

For Northern Ireland, the Government understand the concerns that people have about the way in which legacy matters are currently dealt with. The Government believe that the institutions set out in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement are the best way to ensure a fair, balanced and proportionate approach to addressing the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. That is why the Northern Ireland Office is currently consulting on the detail of how the Stormont House Agreement institutions could be implemented.

The Ministry of Defence is aware that the House of Commons Defence Committee has recently launched an inquiry into this important topic. The Committee’s interest is welcome. In a complementary initiative, the Defence Secretary has recently announced the creation of a dedicated team within the Ministry of Defence to consider the wider issues engaged by this debate and to advise him on the way forward. The team will look beyond the statute of limitations idea to consider other possible approaches and will operate closely alongside the Northern Ireland Office with respect to their consultation process.