Personal Injury Time Limit Within Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021

On 29 April 2021, the Overseas Operations Bill received Royal Asset.
What Does This Mean for Our Service Personnel and Veterans?

Part 1 of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act (OOA 2021) ensures that when judges are deciding whether to prosecute service personnel and veterans of an overseas criminal offence, consideration is taken for the unique context of the alleged offence having occurred abroad.

Part 2 of the OOA 2021 encompasses civil claims, including personal injuries arising from overseas operations. Such claims are now subject to an absolute limitation period of six years from the date of the incident, or six years from knowledge of the incident, meaning that judges are unable to use their discretion to allow claims after this period.

Why Is the OOA 2021 Necessary?

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) asserts that the OOA 2021 is needed to protect military personal and veterans participating in overseas operations following an unprecedented increase in the number of legal claims, in particular regarding past operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government claims the OOA 2021 will create certainty and protect service personnel and veterans from the continued threat of repeated investigations and potential prosecution.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) publicly rejected the foundations of such claims, stating that only the MOD will benefit from such amendments to the law, as the MOD will consequently avoid liability for compensating those injured as a result of their negligence. In fact, it also remains unclear to us, as to why the MOD has chosen to deny its valiant service personnel compensation by introducing a long stop limitation date that civilians (and those our forces are serving) are not subject to. In usual personal injury claims involving occupational liability, the judge usually has discretion to allow out of time claims. This option has been taken away from those injured by overseas operations for reasons that remain unclear and unsupported.

Six years may appear to be a generous amount of time to bring a claim, however APIL has cited two main difficulties with this “arbitrary” time limit:

  • Injured service personnel are often wrongly informed they are unable to pursue a claim or wrongly informed they don’t have a valid claim by those higher in rank.
  • PTSD is a common personal injury that is sustained within the forces and its symptoms can vary enormously. Some members may be unable to talk about what has happened to them even six years following a diagnosis.

Should we be denying justice to our servicemen and servicewomen because they are not able to talk about the devastating events that caused their psychological injuries in the near future? Should we be denying justice to our servicemen and servicewomen because they were wrongly manipulated or belittled into believing that their injuries were not caused by any negligence? It is also of note that a large proportion of claims are for noise-induced hearing loss, something which may not become immediately obvious and could remain latent and undiagnosed for decades.

Proposal of Amendment to Original Bill

The House of Lords appeared to recognise these issues and proposed an amendment to the original bill, calling to exclude “actions brought against the Crown by serving or former service personnel from the limitations on courts’ discretion that [Part 2] imposes in respect of actions relating to overseas operations.” This amendment recognised the importance of those who put their life on the line by serving their country overseas. Although, some have argued it did not go far enough and indirectly created a two-tier system in which civilian employees or families of deceased personnel may have been unable to make claims.

The potentially discriminatory impact of the two-tier system became a moot point as the House of Commons rejected the Lords amendment in its entirety by a majority of 357 to 268. Part 2 applies in the same way “to all claimants bringing claims connected with overseas operations against the MOD, whether they are military personnel, civil servants, contractors or local nationals” and the government states that “service personnel and veterans can continue to access the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme, which has a seven-year time limit for bringing claims.”

During the debate in the House of Commons of the above amendment, it was argued by MP Leo Docherty that approximately 94% of the claims brought against operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were brought within the six year time limit. However, MP John Healey cited findings that if the bill had been enforced since 2007, then 195 troops would have been caught and prevented from pursuing a successful claim.

Regardless of statistics, we contend that no single person prepared to put their lives on the line for their country should be denied from seeking compensation and justice for their injuries sustained as a result of doing so. We can therefore see no justification for our armed forces having less protection for personal injuries than those they are fighting to protect. For more information, please contact our personal injury team.