Military solicitor Hilary Meredith has welcomed news that the Defence Secretary will propose legislation to protect the Military from historic charges in this year’s Queen’s speech.
This comes as four Army Veterans are expected to be charged with murder over the death of Bloody Sunday protesters in 1972.
Gavin Williamson has described cases against servicemen in the past as a “witch-hunt” and said that the case relating to Bloody Sunday “completely turns the stomach of the British people.”
It is believed that the legislation will put in place three steps to protect soldiers and veterans:
There will be a presumption not to prosecute veterans if an offence took place more than 10 years ago.
A cabinet minister has to give his approval in order for a prosecution to proceed.
Advice from the attorney-general which clearly states the level of evidence required to bring forward a prosecution, as well as a test to check whether bringing the case forward is in the interest of the public.
Commenting on developments, Hilary Meredith, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester, said:
“Legislation is urgently needed 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.
“Anything other than a ten-year time limit is a betrayal of our veterans, many of whom have already have had their lives ruined by false accusations and flawed, aggressive investigations.
“When a significant time has passed witnesses’ recollections and memories fade, documentary evidence is lost and other evidence is weakened. A fair trial is impossible.”
Hilary, who provided evidence to the Defence Committee’s “Statute of Limitations – Veterans Protection Inquiry” – says the Government is introducing new legislation as it is the only way to reduce the impact of human rights law on military operations.
“The good the Human Rights Act was brought in to do has been overshadowed by abuse of the Act and legislation is needed to put a stop to this abuse once and for all.
“Having acted for members of the armed forces since 1988 I have nothing but total respect for their honourable, brave service.
“To my mind, it is not far from treason to persecute our troops by bringing false claims from decades ago.”
In addition to the ten-year time limit, Hilary, who successfully campaigned from the closure of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) in 2017, believes service personnel and veterans need further legislative protection. She is also calling for combat immunity to be enshrined into criminal law as a partial defence to prosecution and for the MoD to be stripped of its historic immunity from prosecution when personnel are killed during training as a result of a serious failing in its duty of care through a reckless disregard for life.