Urgent question: Civil liability claims against MoD from British troops overseas

16 July 2020

Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey asked Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State if he will update the House on the impact of the Overseas Operation Bill on the rights of British troops serving overseas to make civil liability claims against the Ministry of Defence and its implications for the Armed Forces Covenant.

Johnny Mercer: "we want to ensure that all claims are assessed fairly to achieve a fair outcome"

Johnny Mercer, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (jointly with the Ministry of Defence) told the House the Overseas Operation Bill takes account of the uniquely challenging circumstances of overseas operation and reassures personnel that they will not be called on endlessly to defend against historic claims.

The Bill does this by introducing a 'long-stop', which restricts an absolute maximum of six years the time limit for bringing civil claims or human rights acts claims for personal injury or death in connection to overseas operations.

He told the House that the Bill does not change how the time limit is calculated. It will continue to be determined from either the date of the incident or date of knowledge.

He went on to say that conditions such as PTSD may not be diagnosed until much later so the six years would start from the day of diagnosis.

Mr Mercer said "we want to ensure that all claims are assessed fairly to achieve a fair outcome, yes for veterans, but for victims too, for service personnel and the tax payer".

Service personnel and veterans will still be able to bring claims against the Ministry of Defence, even if they are more than six years from the date of the incident, Mercer says.

John Healey: government have "got important parts of this Bill badly wrong"

John Healey, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence responded to the statement.

He told the House that he asked the urgent question so that ministers could "set the record straight and reassure veterans, who have won claims against the MoD after knowing about their PTSD or hearing loss for years, who rightly feel and fear that this Bill will block their comrades from such compensation in future."

We also want to protect serving and former troops against the ministers relentless cycle of vexatious legal claims or repeat investigations".

He warned the government that they have "got important parts of this Bill [Overseas Operation Bill] badly wrong".

He went on to scrutinise the Bill, saying the legislation reduces "the rights of our armed forces personnel who serve overseas to bring civil claims against the Ministry of Defence if they miss the hard six year deadline or the 'long-stop'.

"70 of 522 such settled claims have been brought more than six years after the incident", says Healey and asked Mercer to correct the record.

He concluded:

"Why is he legislating to deny those who put their lives on the line for our country overseas, the same employer liability rights as the UK civilians they defend.

"Why is the government breaching its owned Armed Forces Covenant by disadvantaging these troops?

"And why was the most senior military lawyer, the Judge Advocate General  not consulted on the drafting of this Bill?"

Image: Creative Commons 

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