COMMONS

Protect Northern Ireland veterans with Statute of Limitations

26 April 2017

Former British soldiers, who served in Northern Ireland up to the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, should be protected by a Statute of Limitations preventing further investigation and prosecution of incidents which occurred between almost 20 and almost 50 years ago, says the Defence Committee in its report.

So says the Defence Committee in its report, "Investigations into fatalities in Northern Ireland involving British military personnel." The report concludes:

"It is clear from the experience of these legacy investigations that, unless a decision is taken to draw a line under all Troubles-related cases, without exception, they will continue to grind on for many years to come – up to half-a-century after the incidents concerned."

Statute of Limitations

The Committee favours a Statute of Limitations, coupled with a truth recovery mechanism to help bereaved families, after exploring four options available to the Government to protect service personnel facing historic, Troubles-related allegations.

Unresolved deaths from the Troubles, including those attributed to the British Army, have been the subject of investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB). Under the terms of Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act, 1998, terrorists who committed multiple murders during the Troubles face, in practice, no more than a two-year sentence, even if successfully prosecuted.

Evidence from senior legal experts

The Committee heard evidence from senior legal experts that, were a Statute of Limitations to apply only to state actors such as military personnel, it would leave the UK open to the charge of legislating for "state impunity".

The Committee stopped short of recommending that the Statute of Limitations should also cover incidents on all sides during the Troubles – in order to meet this point – stating that this wider issue would be for the next Government to decide.

The report re-emphasizes the conclusion reached in its recent Inquiry into the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT): that, in adhering to the pursuit of justice and the rule of law, the Government must not lose sight of its moral responsibility to those who have served our country. That responsibility is just as great for veterans who served decades ago in Northern Ireland, as it is for current and former service personnel who served in more recent conflicts.

Chair's comments

The Chairman of the Defence Committee, Dr Julian Lewis MP, said:

"To subject former soldiers to legal pursuit under the current arrangements is wholly oppressive and a denial of natural justice. The UK Parliament has it entirely within its power to enact a Statute of Limitations in this matter – which is the only way to avoid another IHAT debacle."

 Further information

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