Minister accused of breaking ministerial code to push through Overseas Operations Bill

By agency reporter
December 7, 2020

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, has been accused of breaking the ministerial code to gain support for the Overseas Operations Bill, which reduces the chances of armed forces personnel being prosecuted for war crimes.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) says that the bill must not be allowed to proceed through Parliament if the allegations are found to be true.

Allegations in the Mail on Sunday on 6 December 2020 suggested that Mr Mercer leaked a story of questionable accuracy to the media in October, reporting that a judge would be appointed to oversee investigations into war crimes by British troops. The Mail suggests that this was to “bounce” the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace into going ahead quickly with the Overseas Operations Bill.

The Minister and his colleagues are already facing criticisms that the bill is rushed and unclear, and that it disregards the human rights of both armed forces personnel and civilians. Having being passed by the Commons on 3 November, it is now with the House of Lords.

The bill has been criticised by the army's former senior legal adviser Nicholas Mercer, the Royal British Legion, Veterans for Peace and NGOs that support victims of torture. It has been dubbed the War Crimes Immunity Bill by the Peace Pledge Union, Britain's leading pacifist campaign group.

The bill introduces a “presumption against prosecution” of forces personnel for crimes alleged to have taken place longer than five years ago while operating outside the UK, including allegations of torture. It also makes it harder for veterans to take legal action against the Ministry of Defence, through a six-year “cut-off” period.

Symon Hill, Campaigns Manager of the Peace Pledge Union, said: “Johnny Mercer and his colleagues have been pushing this shameful, sordid bill through Parliament despite ongoing criticism from lawyers, veterans' groups, charities and NGOs. Mercer plays down war crimes and his bill shows contempt for the rule of law and the human rights of both armed forces personnel and the people who live in places where they operate. This bill would position the armed forces as institutions above the law.

“If it turns out that even the introduction of the bill was based on a dishonest leak from Johnny Mercer, this should be the final nail in the coffin for this vile piece of legislation.”

* Peace Pledge Union https://www.ppu.org.uk/


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