Serious crimes cannot be erased by time

Weakening Ministry of Defence (MoD) legal and public accountability would be misguided and risk stripping British troops and others of their rights, the Law Society of England and Wales warned as it responded to proposals to change laws covering military operations outside the UK.

The government intends to introduce a so-called ‘no-fault compensation scheme’ – which would prevent armed forces personnel and veterans enforcing their rights through the courts – despite widespread condemnation of the idea when proposed in 2017.

The MoD also wants to impose a time limit on compensation claims, a new partial defence to murder and a presumption against prosecution for allegations against armed forces personnel relating to events that are more than a decade old.

The consultation paper also contains a commitment to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) before future conflicts.

Law Society vice president David Greene said: “The MoD’s use of the term ‘lawfare’ to frame these proposals is disingenuous and dangerous, as it gives the appearance of setting our justice system against the national interest and legitimate military action.

“Our armed forces are rightly known across the world for their courage and discipline. They depend on clear rules of engagement and, during armed conflict, are governed by international humanitarian law, which establishes limits to permissible behaviour in conflict.

“The UK upholds and respects the rule of law on and off the battlefield across the world. The rule of law dictates that everyone should be held accountable within our framework of laws. It must not matter how the accused or defendant may be perceived by the public, media or government.”

On further measures put forward by the MoD, David Greene said: “Proposals to prevent the prosecution of alleged serious offences by service personnel outside the UK simply on the basis of the passage of time are problematic.

“It is the role of the justice system to determine independently the merit of each case, a function that is and must remain separate from government.

“The proposed time limit on compensation claims could prevent Armed Forces personnel, other MoD employees and civilians being recompensed for injuries suffered and medical conditions caused by military activities. We believe this would be a gross injustice to those who have dedicated their lives to their country and to innocent victims.

“Legal experts are divided on the viability of the proposed partial defence to murder charges where the death has occurred outside the UK. We articulate the pros, cons and questions in detail in our consultation response.

“The intention to opt out of an international human rights framework is not only disproportionate, it is dangerous," David Greene said of the UK’s intention to derogate from the ECHR in future conflicts.

"We must not forego these internationally-agreed guiding principles by creating ad hoc caveats. If the UK is seen to set itself above commonly agreed standards we risk undermining our standing internationally, our ability to hold other states to account and could disrupt a far wider culture of international cooperation that has been built over many years."

Notes to editors

The Law Society’s consultation response is informed by Law Society expert committees in human rights, civil justice and criminal law.

For the Law Society’s response in full or for a spokesperson for interviews, contact Harriet Beaumont | 0208 049 3854 (out of hours 0203 189 1880)

Read the Ministry of Defence's consultation

Read our response

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact:  Harriet Beaumont | 0208 049 3854 (out of hours 0203 189 1880)

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