British troops may never face a legal witch hunt again.
Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister are saying UK troops will be protected from the “industry of vexatious claims that has pursued those who served in previous conflicts”.
Mrs May and Sir Michael are opting out of the European Convention on Human Rights which will protect our frontline forces from “spurious” legal claims.
Their intervention is a massive victory for soldiers, MPs and senior military figures who have fought against the hounding of troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan over allegations that date back to 2003.
The claims, in which “victims” used the ECHR to demand millions of pounds in compensation, prompted Sir Michael to describe the treatment of soldiers as a “witch-hunt”.
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team is investigating almost 1,500 allegations of mistreatment and unlawful killing of Iraqis, while a separate inquiry, Operation Northmoor, is looking at more than 550 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan dating back to 2005.
Mrs May said:
Our troops – our men and women in our armed forces – go out there and put their lives on the line in order to defend us and do things that most people wouldn’t be willing to do, in terms of going out and potentially paying the ultimate sacrifice for us.
I think they should know that Government is on their side. They should have the confidence when they go into combat for us that they are able to do what is necessary to keep us safe and to defend this country.
She went on to say:
What we’ve seen in recent times is human rights legislation being used to generate all these vexatious claims and troops finding themselves inn some difficulty and worrying and concerned about the future as a result of that.
I think it’s absolutely right that the Government should say to our troops ‘We are on your side’.
Of course, if there are credible allegations of criminal behaviour, those need to be investigated, but we need to stop this industry of vexatious claims which has grown up, with lawyers appearing to chase around to find anybody who will bring a claim against our troops.
Mrs May stressed that UK forces will at all times be required to operate in accordance with international humanitarian law – including the Geneva Conventions – and service law.