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New legislation will help protect Troubles' veterans

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Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

PA

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace

Service personnel will be protected from "vexatious claims and endless investigations" under legislation to be debated by MPs for the first time, the Defence Secretary has said.

Separate legislation will be introduced to cover veterans who served in Northern Ireland from fresh probes into Troubles-era cases.

The Overseas Operations Bill, which offers stronger legal protections for service personnel and veterans from prosecutions after serving abroad, is to be debated in Parliament today.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said it would provide "certainty" for troops.

The bill, unveiled earlier this year, sparked controversy as it did not include protection for veterans who have served in Northern Ireland.

However, the Government said separate legislation will "address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland", adding it will be delivered in a way that focuses on "reconciliation". It will end the "cycle of reinvestigations into the Troubles that has failed victims and veterans alike".

The Government said it remained "committed to moving this forward as quickly as possible".

The Overseas Operations Bill was introduced in March after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan gave rise to an unprecedented number of legal claims, contributing to nearly 1,000 compensation claims against the Ministry of Defence for unlawful detention, injury and death, as well as 1,400 judicial review claims seeking investigations and compensation for human rights violations.

The MoD said around 70% of allegations received by the independent Iraq Historic Allegations Team were dismissed as there was no case to answer.

Ahead of the Bill's second reading, Mr Wallace said: "This Government made a promise to the nation to protect service personnel and veterans from vexatious claims and endless investigations.

"We have not shied away from the challenge and today are one step closer to fulfilling that commitment."

He added: "Our Armed Forces risk their lives to protect us and it is vital we continue to progress this legislation, providing certainty for the troops who find themselves on the front line in the future."

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said: "This legislation is not about providing an amnesty or putting troops above the law but protecting them from lawyers intent on rewriting history to line their own pockets.

"It will put an end to lawfare and make sure personnel and veterans are not repeatedly and indefinitely called upon to give evidence about events that happened years ago."

He added: "Today we are one step closer to making the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran."

Steve Crawshaw, director of policy and advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said the Bill is "deeply flawed" and sends a "damaging signal" about the United Kingdom.

Belfast Telegraph