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TROOPS who commit serious offences will be able to escape justice under legislation, MPs warned yesterday.
In a damning report on the Overseas Operations Bill, the joint committee on human rights said that the legislation breaches Britain’s human rights obligations and creates unjustified barriers to prosecutions.
The Bill seeks to limit false and historical allegations arising from overseas operations by introducing a statutory presumption against prosecution, making it exceptional for personnel to be prosecuted five years or more after an incident.
But campaigners and some senior military figures have warned that it will create a presumption against prosecution of torture and other serious crimes, except rape and sexual violence.
The MPs said that – at a minimum – the Bill should be amended so that the presumption against prosecution does not apply to torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.
Committee chairwoman and senior Labour MP Harriet Harman said: “Without amendment, the Bill as it stands will allow those in our armed forces who perpetrate serious crimes to escape justice and prevent victims with justified claims bringing wrongdoing before the courts.
“It is bad for the rule of law, bad for the victims of crime and bad for our armed forces.”
Ms Harman urged the government to reflect on her committee’s report and to “ask themselves whether or not they are doing the right thing here.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been criticised after whipping Labour MPs to abstain on the Bill in September and sacking left-winger Nadia Whittome for voting against it.
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said that it was “untrue” to say the Bill will prevent crimes from being prosecuted.
The Bill is due to have its report stage and third reading in the Commons on Tuesday.
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