Peers launch a scathing attack on the government’s War Crimes Immunity Bill

UK Troops, Afghanistan

Peers in the House of Lords are giving the government’s controversial war crimes immunity bill a rough ride, with one peer describing it as “indefensible”.

Another warned that it was among the worst pieces of legislation they had ever seen, while a third peer said it would put service personnel on a “different legal basis” to the society they defend.

The Overseas Operations Bill aims to stop so-called ‘vexatious’ allegations being pursued against UK troops for abuse and even murder during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has been championed by former army officer turned veterans’ affairs minister Johnny Mercer.

Criticisms

Former generals, veterans, human rights groups, military charities and lawyers have slammed the bill for a variety of reasons. Criticisms include that it would stop troops suing the MOD, it would undermine the UK’s international standing, damage international law and deny victims justice.

The substantial Tory majority in parliament saw the bill pass through the Commons relatively unimpeded. It has now just finished its second reading stage in the House of Lords.

Among its provisions would be a “presumption against prosecution where five or more years have passed since an alleged offence on an overseas operation”.

“Indefensible”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Thomas of Gresford said:

Read on...

 Sexual offences are excluded from the presumption, so if a soldier tortures, rapes and kills a civilian, there is a presumption against prosecuting him for the torture and the murder but not for the rape. This is surely indefensible on any policy or moral basis.

Baroness Northover, also a Liberal Democrat, said the bill was one of the worst she had seen:

We certainly owe those Armed Forces a huge debt of gratitude. But I do not think I have ever participated in a piece of legislation which is so evidently flawed, except perhaps the Brexit Bill which sought to break international law.

Labour’s Lord Rotherham, meanwhile, warned that the provisions in the bill risked putting UK troops on a different legal footing to the rest of society:

We do a disservice to our troops, now and in the future, if we put them on a different legal basis to the society they represent and defend. We can and should make improvements in this House. The Government should take some time before they bring the Bill back to consider it. In that way, we might avoid that iron law of unintended consequences. We have a duty to do so.

“Legal exceptionalism”

Elsewhere in the press, former senior Royal Navy officer Lord West said the bill was probably in need of amendment:

Another former senior officer reportedly warned that the new laws could create a state of “legal exceptionalism”:

The debate over this critical piece of legislation continues in the Lords.

Featured image via Elite Forces UK/Staff Sergeant James Elmer

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us