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The conduct of the UK’s armed forces has traditionally been regulated by international humanitarian law, also called the law of armed conflict, and UK domestic law. Over the last two decades, there have been a number of rulings which have expanded the territorial application of the European Convention on Human Rights. There has also been an increase in the number of legal proceedings brought against the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence relating to the conduct of military personnel on operation overseas. The Government has argued action needs to be taken to provide greater certainty for service personnel and veterans concerning what it describes as vexatious claims concerning the prosecution of historical events.

Overseas Operations Bill provisions

Part 1 of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill establishes new restrictions on bringing proceedings against current and former members of the armed forces, including: a presumption against prosecution after five years; and a requirement to take into consideration the conditions members of the armed forces are under during overseas operations. Part 2 of the bill would introduce time limits on some civil claims and claims made under the Human Rights Act. It would also require the secretary of state to consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights regarding future overseas operations.

Scrutiny of the bill

The bill has been criticised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has argued it could undermine the UK’s obligations under international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law. Several amendments to the bill were tabled during committee stage and report stage by members of the Opposition and other parties, and by some Conservative MPs. MPs voted on several of these amendments, but they were all defeated.

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