Senior military officials write to the Prime Minister

Senior military, political and legal figures have written to the Prime Minister to warn that the decriminalisation of torture would be a stain on this country’s reputation. 

They urge that the Overseas Operations Bill, though purporting to protect British soldiers, in reality, will make them more vulnerable.

Letting British soldiers off the hook for torture sends a dangerous signal to the rest of the world. 

Read the letter:

Dear Prime Minister

We are writing to you in connection with the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, due to receive its second reading on 23 September.

We believe that this Bill has dangerous and harmful implications, for the reputation of the armed forces and for the safety of British troops who risk their lives in overseas operations.

This Bill purports to protect soldiers. In reality, it risks making them more vulnerable.

The Geneva Conventions form the cornerstone of International Humanitarian Law and exist to protect all parties. Accountability is an essential part of that.

Vexatious claims are an important issue, which should be addressed. We find it disturbing, however, that the Government’s approach in Part 1 of this Bill creates a presumption against prosecution of torture and other grave crimes (with only rape and sexual violence excepted) after five years. We believe that the effective application of existing protocols removes the risk of vexatious prosecution.

To create de facto impunity for such crimes would be a damaging signal for Britain to send to the world. This Bill would be a stain on the country’s reputation. It would increase the danger to British soldiers if Britain is perceived as reluctant to act in accordance with long established international law.

We urge the Government to reconsider these ill-conceived plans.


Field Marshal the Lord Guthrie
Chief of the Defence Staff, 1997-2001

Gen Sir Nicholas Parker
Commander in Chief, Land Forces, 2010-2012

Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC
Defence Secretary, 1992-95; Foreign Secretary, 1995-97

Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC
Attorney General, 2010-14

Bruce Houlder CB QC
Director of Service Prosecutions, 2008-2013


If the government was serious about protecting the men and women that serve this country, it would commit to investigate allegations of abuse within a reasonable time limit and trust the legislation that already exists to protect victims and accused alike. Everyone should abide by the same laws – we are all safer that way.

Help us fight this bill - email your MP