Amendment 19

Part of Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 9 March 2021.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Attorney General 9:15, 9 March 2021

We move on to a different part of the Bill, which seeks to impose more rigorous time limits for bringing civil actions, whether in accordance with the ordinary law of tort or contract, or under the Human Rights Act. Although I am slightly oversimplifying, the Bill essentially seeks to impose a six-year unextendable deadline for bringing civil claims in respect of the conduct of the military, except where knowledge occurs after the six years, in which case there is a further 12-month extension. This is in contradistinction to the normal position whereby a claim would be brought not arising out of overseas operations where the court would have an ability to extend the time for bringing a claim if it were equitable to do so.

In these amendments, we focus on two particular circumstances. First, where a claim is being brought by someone within the military against, in effect, the Government for a breach of human rights or a tortious claim, we take the view that we should not be providing additional limitation hurdles in respect of military personnel bringing claims against the MoD—for example, for the negligent provision of defective equipment. I should be interested to hear why the Government think that there should be such a limitation. As a subgroup, primarily dealing with military personnel but able to deal with others also, if, in relation to an identical claim that had occurred in the UK, somebody could bring a claim and have the limitation period extended if it were equitable to do so, we cannot see any reason why in identical circumstances such a claim could not also be brought, even though the circumstances or damage arose in the course of overseas operations.

For example, if the Ministry of Defence provided defective equipment to a soldier and, as a result, the soldier suffered serious injury in an exercise on Salisbury Plain, why should a soldier who suffers precisely the same injury while on an overseas operation because of the negligent provision of defective equipment by the Ministry of Defence have a shorter and harsher limitation period than the soldier who was injured in precisely the same circumstances for precisely the same reasons in an exercise on Salisbury Plain? For example, they were both injured not necessarily because of the activities of enemy insurgents against them but because all the forms of transport provided were defective in a way that was the fault of the Ministry of Defence. The injury would have occurred whether one was driving along a road in Wiltshire or a road in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is unfair that there should be different limitations for precisely the same sorts of injury.

Two questions arise on this group of amendments. First, why should there be different limitation periods for the military bringing claims against the Ministry of Defence? Secondly and separately, even if there is a reason for that, why should there be a different limitation period for precisely the same injury, the only difference being that it was caused in the course of overseas operations rather than at home, for example? We are aware of the problems that have arisen in relation to many claims being brought—and many failing—arising out of overseas operations. We are all aware of those circumstances, but we are very concerned that, in trying to deal with that multiplicity of claims, the Government are unfairly depriving military personnel of their legitimate right to protect their rights against the Ministry of Defence.

It is very important that the limitation period be fair for claims by military personnel because, for a whole variety of reasons that those engaged in the military will be aware of, there may be very good reasons why a member of the military takes a long time to discover either that they could bring a claim or that they are in an emotional or mental position to bring a claim because of their experiences. We think these provisions are very detrimental and unfair to military personnel and require amendment. I beg to move.