“De facto decriminalisation of torture” debate in Commons

September 10, 2020

Edited image of Parliament from Shutterstock

The Government has announced that the Overseas Operations Bill will get its second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday, September 23.

In its current form, the Bill risks effectively decriminalising torture. Second reading is a first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the proposed legislation.

Senior military figures including Field Marshall Lord Guthrie have spoken out against the Bill, stating that it “provides room for a de facto decriminalisation of torture.”

The Bill would introduce a ‘triple lock’ against prosecutions of UK personnel for crimes committed in the course of “overseas operations”, making it almost impossible to bring prosecutions for acts of torture.

Firstly, an unprecedented ‘presumption against prosecution’ states that “exceptional” circumstances would be required to justify prosecution five years or more after the alleged offence: even if there is strong evidence of torture, and even if a prosecution could be firmly in the public interest.

Secondly, prosecutors would be required to give “particular weight” to the reasons “against” prosecutions – even when the offence is torture.

Thirdly, the Attorney General would be able to veto prosecutions – even when there are credible claims of torture that clearly violates domestic and international law.

Reprieve Deputy Director Dan Dolan said: “If this Bill becomes law in its current form, it will undermine the UK’s centuries-old ban on torture, put British soldiers at risk and jeopardise operations overseas. It is being sold as legislation to protect our troops, when in fact, it protects the Government at the expense of our men and women in uniform. That’s why so many soldiers are speaking out against it.”