A British Armed Forces Federation member has given evidence on behalf of the Federation to the House of Commons Bill Committee which is considering the Government's Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. He was the first witness questioned by the Committee on 6th October.
The BAFF witness was Douglas Young, who is a former Lieutenant Colonel in the reserve forces who served in the First Gulf War and the Balkans. He is also a retired Scottish solicitor and was the founding BAFF Chairman 2006-2016.
Young's evidence was prepared in consultation with a group of other BAFF members whose service branches included infantry, intelligence and special forces, and whose collective service included operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and Northern Ireland. (The present Bill does not apply to operations within the United Kingdom.)
BAFF spokespeople had often expressed concerns about the conduct of legacy investigations, while emphasising that genuine crime must be investigated and where appropriate prosecuted in a timely manner. The Federation had taken practical steps by offering legal assistance via an English law firm for any BAFF member being treated as a suspect, along with a basic advice package for any member approached by such inquiries - even if only as a witness.
BAFF had also submitted a response to the MoD pre-legislation consultation in 2019.
BAFF supported the stated aim of the Bill "to provide greater certainty for Service personnel and veterans in relation to vexatious claims and prosecution of historical events, that occurred in the uniquely complex environment of armed conflict overseas", but detailed criticisms of the Bill should be taken seriously.
Young said in his evidence that
You can absolutely weep at the experiences of Major Robert Campbell and others who have been subjected to repeated investigations. Baroness Hallett’s report was very clear that everyone involved ... was completely innocent, and yet people say their lives have been ruined. That is awful. It has been recognised that a lot of work has been done, but it has not helped people who were already in the wringer. We certainly very much welcome the stated aims of this legislation.
So we deplored the effect on individuals who had been caught up in outrageously prolonged or repeated investigations, and we deplored the actions of the solicitor who was struck off for his part, but we questioned some of the language used by the Ministry and others, such as talk of "hundreds of prosecutions" of service personnel or veterans; there had in fact been very few actual criminal prosecutions of UK personnel arising from operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it appeared that some legal actions lumped in as "prosecutions" had been, in reality, civil compensation claims against the MoD by British armed forces personnel or veterans.
We deplored claims that MPs, retired senior officers and others questioning any aspect of the Bill were "failing to support the armed forces".
Young said that the Bill was arguably in fulfilment of the Armed Forces Covenant in one respect, namely that it would relieve armed forces personnel of a degree of malicious complaint to which most public sector professionals were either not subject, or were in a better position to defend themselves. On the other hand, the Bill as drafted would significantly reduce the ability of armed forces personnel to sue their employer for non-battle injury caused by MOD negligence overseas.
Young questioned the exemption of sexual offences from the Bill's proposed time limit, while limiting prosecutions for torture. He suggested that sexual offences but not torture were being exempted for reasons of political correctness. The two types of offence had similarities, such as typically taking place in secret on a person under the control of the perpetrator or perpetrators, and Young did not think that either should be exempted.
A single act of abuse could involve both sexual crime and torture, irrespective of the gender of the victim.
Young also suggested that the imposition of shorter time limits for criminal and civil cases implied a requirement for speedy and improved investigation and recording. The Defence Secretary has since announced a Judge-led review "to provide greater certainty for troops being investigated".
Douglas Young's evidence was taken via Zoom and can be read here:
- Overseas Operations Bill Committee - Examination of Witnesses - Douglas Young on behalf of British Armed Forces Federation
A compilation of all the Committee's evidence session transcripts is now available here: