Human rights

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act

The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act was passed into legislation in April 2021.

The act includes a:

  • statutory presumption against prosecution of current or former personnel for alleged offences committed in the course of duty more than five years ago
  • requirement that any prosecution brought more than five years after the event must have the attorney general’s consent to proceed
  • ‘longstop’ to prevent claimants bringing human rights or civil litigation claims for personal injury or death more than six years after the event

The act only applies to allegations and claims relating to military operations outside the UK.

The government has previously consulted on these and other related issues through the Ministry of Defence (MoD) consultations on:

Our view

We engaged with the act through all of its stages from consultation to enactment.

We expressed concerns about the impact of the bill’s changes on the consistency of criminal, civil, and human rights law.

These changes created a special category of exceptions and limitations that would treat allegations against the military of criminal and civil wrongdoing overseas differently to allegations that are brought against those who are not part of the military, or for incidents that occur in the UK.

We were pleased to see changes to key provisions that would harm the rule of law and protection of rights before the act passed.

These changes were in line with our calls and included:

  • amending the presumption against prosecution to exclude war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture
  • removing the requirement for the secretary of state to consider derogating from the European Convention of Human Rights ahead of military operations abroad

We remain concerned about the practical effect of the act on access to justice and the rule of law. 

What this means for solicitors

Solicitors who advise on criminal and civil matters in relation to claims brought by or against armed services personnel in respect of activities outside the UK will be affected by the act.

The act creates a special category of limits and exemptions for serious criminal offences and civil litigation claims involving the military, in relation to actions that take place in the course of deployment overseas.

What we’re doing

Get involved

We'll be monitoring the effect of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act.

If you're representing clients affected by the act, email Hazel Blake to share your experience of it.

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