Last month, the Committee’s submission to the legacy consultation renewed calls for veterans and others facing investigations into Troubles-related fatalities to be protected by a Statute of Limitations. The submission, consisting of a strongly-worded covering letter and a copy of the Committee’s April 2017 report Investigations into fatalities in Northern Ireland involving British military personnel, reiterated the Committee’s unanimous view that the best solution to the “vicious cycle of investigation and re-investigation” was a Statute of Limitations covering all Troubles-related incidents, up to the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which involved former members of the Armed Forces, accompanied with a truth recovery mechanism. The submission also expressed the Committee’s disappointment and surprise that the legacy consultation failed to include the section on alternative approaches to the past, previously promised by the Government in its November 2017 response to its report, which stated that a Statute of Limitations would specifically be considered.
While acknowledging that the “current system of addressing the past is not working well for anyone”, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s response continues to rule out the option of a Statute of Limitations, favouring instead a new model of investigations under the proposed Historical Investigations Unit.
Responding to the Secretary of State’s letter, the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, commented:
"Although it is courteous to respond so promptly to our submission while the consultation is still underway, the speed of this reply and the length of the Secretary of State’s letter suggest that its outcome has already been predetermined in favour of a cycle of further investigation and re-investigation.
"Unfortunately, the Secretary of State’s letter is unsatisfactory and seems to be an attempt by the NIO to shut down debate on this important topic. This is particularly evident in the closed minded approach towards a Statute of Limitations, coupled with a truth recovery mechanism.
"This blanket rejection also ignores one of the cardinal points about this debate—namely, the impact of the Northern Ireland Sentences Act which ensures that anyone convicted of murder or manslaughter during the Troubles cannot serve more than 2 years of a life sentence.
"The Secretary of State’s approach is in stark contrast to the recent announcement by the Defence Secretary of the establishment of a dedicated team at the MoD to consider the issue of the legal protection that can be provided to serving and former service personnel."
The Committee will continue to focus on this issue, as part of its broader inquiry, ‘Statute of limitations—Veterans protection’, which will consider the wider use of what has become known as ‘Lawfare’ against Service personnel in international conflicts.