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An open letter from a veteran in response to the Overseas Operations Bill

This letter was written by Mark Goodwin-Hudson, a former British Army Officer and the NATO Civilian Casualty Investigation and Mitigation Team lead in Afghanistan in 2016 in response to the Overseas Operations Bill. The legislation has been promoted by the Ministry of Defence as offering stronger legal protection for service personnel and veterans through restricting investigations and prosecutions against them for historic acts in combat.

As a former soldier, I am delighted with the stated aim of the Overseas Operation Bill to protect military personnel and veterans from “the cycle of re-investigations into alleged offences”. However, I don’t agree with the Bill’s proposal to achieve this by creating a new judicial “triple lock” against prosecuting soldiers five years after an incident.

Having led the NATO Civilian Casualty Investigation and Mitigation Team in Afghanistan in 2016, I don’t believe that the Bill addresses the heart of the matter.

What is missing in the UK judicial system is not a triple lock or absolute time limit on claims, but the means to successfully conduct prompt, comprehensive and independent investigations into overseas allegations against our soldiers. Minister Johnny Mercer rightly acknowledged this in an interview with The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast in May 2019: “one of the biggest problems….was the military’s inability to investigate itself and the standard of those investigations.. If those investigations were done properly…we probably would not be where we are today.”

On the basis of my own experiences, legislating for the establishment of an in-theatre investigation team, similar to the one I led in Afghanistan, would enable the UK to swiftly and accurately rebuff vexatious claims against our soldiers. It would also demonstrate a culture of transparency and create the necessary confidence and credibility in the judicial process that would negate the cycle of constant re-investigations.

Rather than this Bill, establishing an investigative capability would be more straightforward. Such capability would properly protect our soldiers on overseas operations, and at the same time would not unnecessarily compromise our much cherished values and the rule of law.