Last week I outlined my proposals for new legislation to protect service personnel and veterans from prosecution in the line of duty.
In recent times military service personnel have been exposed to individual prosecution like never before – in particular historic cases from Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. Whilst each set of circumstances and reasons behind these potential prosecutions differ, changes to the law are necessary in order to encompass all circumstances.
First and foremost, I called for a statute of limitations on prosecuting British Soldiers involved in past conflicts. I believe cases against British troops for their conduct during combat should only be brought within a 10-year time limit.
I am therefore delighted that the Defence Committee has renewed its calls for veterans facing investigations into Troubles-related fatalities to be protected by a Statute of Limitations and has launched a fresh inquiry on protecting personnel engaged in all conflicts.
The Committee repeated the call, made in its 2017 report Investigations into fatalities in Northern Ireland involving British military personnel, in its official submission to the Northern Ireland Office’s legacy consultation.
In a letter accompanying the 2017 report, sent to the Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, and the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the Committee, the Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, 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 letter also expresses the Committee’s disappointment and surprise that the legacy consultation failed to include the section on alternative approaches to the past, including a description of the Committee’s recommendation, that Members had been led to expect following the Government’s official response to the Committee’s 2017 report.
As a result of this failure, and in light of the serious and growing concerns of another IHAT debacle, the Committee has also launched a fresh investigation into the question of how former service personnel can be protected from the spectre of investigation and re-investigation for events that happened many years, and often decades, earlier.
Building on the Committee’s previous work in this area, the inquiry will focus on the following questions:
What are the reasons for investigations into former service personnel?
Following Iraq and Northern Ireland, which previous campaigns are likely to be the next target of investigations?
What are the steps that the Government should take to protect service personnel from investigations and prosecution for historic allegations?
What difficulties do the UK’s international legal obligations pose for any attempt at protecting service personnel?
Can a Statute of Limitations, extended to all previous conflicts, be designed in such a way as to be consistent with these obligations?
What should be the cut-off date for the Statute of Limitations?
I believe that anything over that a statute of limitations would be a betrayal of our veterans, many of whom have already have had their lives ruined by false accusations and flawed, aggressive investigations. We should support our heroes not hang them out to dry.