New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what assessment he has made of the ways in which the provision for a presumption against prosecution in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill ensures the prevention of repeated cycles of reinvestigation; and what recent assessment he has made of the adverse effects on (a) present and (b) former Service personnel who have undergone repeated reinvestigation for alleged offences for which ultimately they were not prosecuted.  [106886]

[Due for Answer on 2 November.]


The Minister for Defence People and Veterans (Johnny Mercer): I refer the right hon. Member to paragraphs 27 to 29 of the Impact Analysis for the Overseas Operations Bill, which was published on 17 September 2020.

We assess that, over time, as prosecutors become familiar with the presumption against prosecution, they will be able to advise investigators earlier in the process as to whether this new statutory requirement - that it is to be exceptional for a decision to be made to prosecute for an alleged offence - would be met in a particular case. This may therefore reduce the likelihood of investigations being reopened without compelling new evidence.

A thorough investigation is important, as it can serve both to exculpate - which is a good thing for the reputation of our Armed Forces - as well as to incriminate. We do, however, recognise not only the inherent difficulties, but also the adverse impacts on our personnel, of investigations regarding allegations of offences committed on overseas operations. These investigations are all the more difficult when a period of time has elapsed since the alleged incident. It is to the benefit both of alleged victims and alleged offenders that investigations are conducted as expeditiously and effectively as possible, so that decisions on whether or not to prosecute are made without delay in the interest of all parties knowing the outcome of these proceedings.

We have learned lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, and will take the necessary steps to try to ensure that future incidents are reported and appropriately investigated at the time, thereby reducing the risk for our personnel of historical investigations, and reinvestigations, into their conduct.

The Secretary of State for Defence announced on 13 October a judge-led review into how allegations of wrongdoing are raised and investigated. The review will make sure the guidance and policy framework for investigating allegations during overseas operations is fit for the future. This will help ensure that all allegations are taken forward in a timely manner, providing reassurance to victims and closure to innocent personnel caught up in investigations.