Amendment 7

Part of Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 13 April 2021.

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Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Non-affiliated 5:00, 13 April 2021

My Lords, Amendments 7 and 8 are, in effect, wrecking amendments, while Amendment 13 seeks to distinguish the position of service personnel and other potential claimants. I expressed the view in Committee that I was not convinced that the provisions in Part 2 would make all that much practical difference. The primary limitation period for personal injuries is three years, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has just pointed out, except in so-called delayed date of knowledge cases, as provided by Sections 11 and 14 of the Limitation Act 1980. There is a discretion to disapply the limitation period under Section 33 of the 1980 Act. As he also pointed out, claims under the Human Rights Act have to be brought within one year, with a discretion to extend in rather limited circumstances.

My experience of personal injury claims as a barrister is that courts need considerable persuasion before they extend the three-year period and that the burden rests on a claimant to persuade a court that that primary limitation period should not apply. Limitation periods exist to reflect the difficult balance that has to be struck between allowing everyone to put a line under actual or potential claims and the fact that some claimants will have good reason for delay.

The provisions in Part 2 provide a long-stop, subject to a delayed date of knowledge provision. It seems that claims arising out of overseas operations present particular difficulties for all those involved, and I respectfully differ from the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about Salisbury Plain, particularly in overseas operations where the theatre of operations has moved on or changed its location and it may be extremely difficult to investigate, on either side, the basis of any such claim.

As I said, the provisions are not likely to have much practical effect, but they will nevertheless have some indirect effect in encouraging appropriate claims to be brought with as much speed as is practical. They will also provide a degree of reassurance to our service personnel that a time will come when they will be involved in one way or another in so-called late claims. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to some uncertainty over what the date of knowledge might be which would defer claims. Subject to what the Minister says, I understand it to be concerned with cases where, for example, there is latent disease that could not be reasonably known about by a claimant at the time; for example, somebody who sustains mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos dust or who has some other illness or injury that becomes manifest only some years after the event in question.

I am not attracted to Amendment 13 either. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, suggested that I was concerned only with claims brought by the military and not with those brought by the non-military or civilians in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan. That was not in fact what I said or thought. It is therefore something of an irony that this amendment would make that very distinction. I am unaware of any such provision in any other area of the law of limitation of actions—that is, a provision that distinguishes between classes of claimant. There are of course provisions distinguishing the position of a claimant who has not attained his or her majority or who lacks mental capacity. However, it would set a most unfortunate precedent somehow to elevate a particular claimant to have a special status.

The provisions in Part 2 ought to apply in precisely the same way across the board to whomsoever is involved in claims arising out of overseas operations and provide equal protection for all of them. This amendment is discriminatory and should not be included in the Bill. Surely our service personnel want to be treated fairly, rather than to be given some special privileged litigation status. I will listen with great interest to what the noble and gallant Lords who are to follow in this debate have to say about the matter, but for the moment I am unconvinced that any of these amendments should be made to the Bill.