Peers will make a late bid today to change legislation affecting military veterans’ rights to bring civil claims for injury suffered in service. The Overseas Operations Bill reaches its third reading in the House of Lords this afternoon, with members given a final opportunity to debate potential amendments to the legislation.
Throughout the passage of the bill, one of the most controversial aspects has been restrictions on time limits for serving or retired personnel to bring actions for personal injury or death relating to overseas operations. The bill would limit the court’s discretion on limitation periods and effectively mean that veterans could not bring a claim after a six-year time limit.
The government says action must be taken to reduce the number of claims and that the new clauses will not disadvantage individuals who have a valid claim.
Liberal Democrat peers Lord Thomas of Gresford and Baroness Smith of Newnham have jointly tabled amendments to the bill which would remove the clauses on limitation.
Ahead of the debate, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) urged the government to listen to concerns and reverse its stance on the six-year limit, suggesting that injured victims will have less protection under the new law.
APIL said claimants will be ‘shackled by an arbitrary and absolute six-year time limit’ and pointed out that while six years might seem a generous period to some, there are many reasons why some claimants may wait longer.
‘Some personnel are told that they are unable to pursue a claim while still serving, or told by those higher up the chain of command that they don’t have a valid claim,’ said the organisation.
‘The culture of the armed forces is that, if people are told they cannot make a claim, it is unlikely that this will be questioned. It is only when people leave the service that they discover they could have been entitled to make a claim after all. This could then become too late if the bill becomes law.’
Defence minister Johnny Mercer MP has defended the new clauses, stating that 94% of claims brought by veterans related to Iraq and Afghanistan were made within six years of the incident or date of knowledge.
In a letter to the Parachute Regimental Association last year, published on the group’s website, Mercer said: ‘In future, I fully anticipate that any claims that would have been outside those timelines may well be brought earlier. To help ensure this happens, we will widely publicise the new longstops through briefing notes and routine ordered across all three services.’