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 Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge 5:00, 13 April 2021

My Lords, I will add just a few words to what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said in support of Amendment 13. The provisions to which it is addressed which are of particular interest to me are in Schedule 3, which seeks to amend the legislation that applies in Scotland to the same extent to that in Schedules 2 and 4, which apply to the other jurisdictions. The crucial point is the imposition—for such it is—of an absolute prescription of six years.

As we know, the three-year limitation period that applies at present is accompanied by protections that enable the court to extend the limitation period if it is justified by the circumstances—the date of knowledge exception. It seems that the Bill applies a hard-edged cut-off that makes no allowance whatever for extenuating circumstances. I could understand it if this proposal had been accompanied by a carefully conducted research programme into how the three-year limitation has worked in practice over the years, identifying on how many occasions the period has been extended for more than three years, and why and at what point the extensions have been sought and justified. We are, of course, in this case, and indeed throughout the Bill, dealing with the consequences of operations that have been conducted overseas, maybe under very difficult circumstances. Gathering together enough information to determine whether a claim would be justified, let alone to bring together all the information needed to justify bringing the claim before the court out of time, may take much more time and effort than is needed in the more benign domestic cases. That is the reason for seeking the discrimination to which the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, referred.

Without this amendment, the proposal in the Bill is a bit of a hostage to fortune. We simply do not know what its effect would be—maybe not very great, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said, but if it is there, it would seem to be unfair. I cannot see anything wrong in bringing out a class of individuals to whom this amendment is directed. In principle, what is wrong with identifying a particular class of claimants, particularly where they can be seen to be, in particular situations, disadvantaged, as we are contemplating in this Bill? For these general reasons, I am inclined to support Amendment 13.