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Britain to allow troops to opt out of human rights law

Britain has spent more than £100 million on Iraq-related investigations for alleged abuses by British troops during the war
British PM Theresa May said the move would end 'vexatious claims' against troops (AFP)

Britain announced plans to allow its soldiers to opt out of European human rights law, in a move Prime Minister Theresa May said would end "the industry of vexatious claims" against troops.

Britain has spent more than £100m ($127m) on Iraq-related investigations, inquiries and compensation, for alleged abuses by British troops during the war, the government said late on Monday night.

Under the new proposal the British government said it would allow soldiers to sidestep the European Convention on Human Rights during times of conflict, depending on an assessment of the circumstances.

"My government will ensure that our troops are recognised for the incredible job they do. Those who serve on the frontline will have our support when they come home.

"We will repay them with gratitude and put an end to the industry of vexatious claims that has pursued those who served in previous conflicts," May said in a statement.

The plan, announced during the ruling Conservative Party's annual conference, is intended to prevent legal claims against members of the armed forces, which Defence Minister Michael Fallon said amounted to "false charges".

"Our legal system has been abused to level false charges against our troops on an industrial scale," he said.

The government said despite the opt-out from European legislation, soldiers would continue to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Britain set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to investigate allegations by Iraqi civilians of abuse by British soldiers between the US-led invasion in 2003 and 2009 when British combat troops left.

As of March 31, 2016, the team was investigating 1,374 cases, with allegations related to ill treatment, missing persons and deaths.

The Ministry of Defence said in January that the IHAT had dropped 57 investigations, while the military's prosecuting authority stopped one additional case.

A total of 326 cases have been settled, with compensation payments totalling £20 million ($26 million).

Some rights advocates slammed the government's move.

Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, a UK rights groups, said most of the claims against soldiers were not vexatious.

She told the Guardian that the Ministry of Defence should work to eradicate battlefield abuse, not permit it.