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Lords votes on changes to overseas operations bill

14 April 2021

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The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill had its report stage, a further chance to closely scrutinise elements of the bill and make changes, in the Lords on Tuesday 13 April.

Members discussed subjects including the ability to conduct fair trials and access to legal aid, and voted for changes relating to presumption against prosecution, investigations into allegations, time limits for court proceedings and duty of care standards for service personnel.

There were four divisions (votes) on proposed amendments (changes) to the bill.

Presumption against prosecution

The first vote was on amendement 3, which ensures that presumption against prosecution does not apply to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide or torture.

Members voted 333 in favour and 228 against, so the change was made.

Investigation into allegations

The second vote was on amendment 6, which inserts a new clause into the bill to ensure that a prosecutor takes into account whether an investigation into criminal allegations has been timely and comprehensively conducted.

Members voted 308 in favour and 249 against, so the change was made.

Time limit restrictions

The third vote was on amendment 13, which inserts a new clause into the bill to ensure the time limit restrictions for court proceedings do not apply to actions brought against the Crown by serving or former service personnel.

Members voted 300 in favour and 225 against, so the change was made.

Duty of care

The final vote was amendment 14, which requires the Ministry of Defence to enact a new duty of care standard in relation to the legal, pastoral and mental health support provided to service personnel involved in investigations.

Members voted 303 in favour and 223 against, so the change was made.

Third reading, a chance for members to make sure the eventual law is effective, workable and without loopholes, is scheduled for 19 April.

Lords committee stage day two: Thursday 11 March

Members discussed a range of topics, including the court’s discretion to extend time in certain Human Rights Act proceedings, claims arising out of overseas operations and access to legal aid for service personnel.

Committee stage day one: Tuesday 9 March

Members discussed a range of topics, including extending presumption against prosecution from five years to ten, the ability to conduct fair trials and the quality and duration of relevant investigations.

Second reading: Wednesday 20 January

Members discussed a range of issues highlighted by the bill, including the rules-based international order and the UK's commitment to the Geneva conventions, military operations in Northern Ireland and the exclusion of sexual offences from presumptions against prosecution.

Baroness Goldie (Conservative), Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence, opened the debate and responded on behalf of the government.

Speakers included a co-chair of the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute and former heads of the British Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill

This bills aims to establish new restrictions on bringing proceedings against current and former members of the armed forces, including:

  • presumption against prosecutions after five years
  • consideration of the conditions members of the armed forces are under during overseas operations. 

The bill will also:

  • introduce time limits on some civil claims and claims made under the Human Rights Act
  • require the Secretary of State to consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights regarding future overseas operations.

Image: Crown Copyright