Admiral Lord Alan West, who was head of the Royal Navy and also served as chief of defence intelligence with the Labour government, has warned against some bids to change the proposed legislation, arguing it threatened to wreck it.
The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which has already cleared the Commons, seeks to limit false and historical allegations arising from deployments by introducing a statutory presumption against prosecution.
This would make it exceptional for personnel to be prosecuted five years or more after an incident.
Speaking as peers began their detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the legislation, Lord West said: ‘I have no doubt whatsoever that this Bill is necessary. It’s lancing a long-standing boil and fulfilling a promise to our military.
‘It’s an issue that has proved too difficult to tackle time and time again, and it’s about time it was tackled. It must not go forward.’
He made his comments after a series of peers raised concerns over the presumption against prosecution.
Labour peer Lord Dubs called for it to be dropped from the legislation, insisting there were already safeguards against vexatious claims.
He also warned it could see personnel end up before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
‘It would be hazardous in the extreme to pass a Bill with measures in it which run the risk our servicemen and women could be prosecuted under the ICC,’ he said.
Lord Dubs said the reputation of UK armed forces was ‘second to none’ but feared they could ‘suffer’ from the proposed new laws.
Branding the Bill a ‘terrible piece of legislation’, Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb argued it should be scrapped because it clashed with the whole point of the justice system, which was that ‘the guilty are found guilty and the innocent are found innocent’.
But former Tory justice minister Lord Faulks defended the Bill, saying it did not prevent investigations but would be welcomed by the armed forces.