In a significant defence of the Rule of Law this week, Parliament flexed its muscles to force the Government to accept that law is not inimical to war, and war is not inimical to law. The Government was forced by a combination of the House of Lords' insistence on its amendments and dissent on the Government's own backbenches in the Commons to agree that the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill should contain no presumption against prosecution of British troops accused of crimes which are so serious that they are within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court: torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.
MPs of all parties welcomed the Government's decision to accept the House of Lords' amendment to the Bill excluding torture, genocide and crimes against humanity from the presumption against prosecution. However, the Government's amendment did not go as far as the Lords amendment, and would have left war crimes within the scope of the presumption. Many of the MPs who spoke in the debate invited the House of Lords to insist on its wider amendment by amending the Bill again to take war crimes out. The House of Lords obliged, with Lord Robertson (former UK Defence Secretary and Secretary General of NATO) re-tabling his amendment to include war crimes, which was eventually accepted by the Government.
It was encouraging for the Rule of Law to see parliamentarians from a military background join forces with parliamentarians from a legal background to argue that there should be no special exemptions for soldiers alleged to have broken the laws of war. The Bingham Centre played a part in ensuring that the parliamentary debates were fully informed about the Rule of Law implications of the Bill. It organised an APPG meeting on the Bill, provided a Rule of Law analysis of its provisions, and worked closely with the APPG on Drones to assist parliamentarians with Rule of Law amendments.
Read a full account in our Weekly Update here