MP for Newbury and former army-officer Richard Benyon is calling for a change to the law on two fronts.
Firstly, lawyers who seek to drum up claims in war zones after conflict should be curtailed in some way. Secondly, there should be a 10 year time limit on claims against the military – which is particularly relevant in relation to Northern Ireland. There is growing backbench fury with the government for its failure to close down the pursuit of hundreds of Northern Ireland veterans, many now in their 60s and 70s.
This is a complex area and while I am totally in favour of a time limit, there are certain hurdles that need to be overcome.
Without a doubt lessons should be learnt from the IHAT “war crimes” probe where some £57million of public money was blown blackening the Army’s name and wrecking the lives of innocent soldiers who should instead have been honoured for their bravery under fire in Iraq. It secured not one prosecution.
The Al-Sweady Inquiry, for example, heard from 300 witnesses and found in robust terms that the ‘vast majority’ of the claims were ‘wholly and entirely without merit or justification’. The whole process clearly needs overhauling. Procedures need tightening and evidence needs checking properly before any accusations being made.
To initiate a 10 year time limit would, in my opinion, require an overhaul of the law.
In civil proceedings, the Ministry of Defence enjoys freedom from prosecution if an incident occurs “in the heat of battle,” in direct contact with the enemy and when thinking is impaired. I can see this easily transferring in to criminal law with immunity from prosecution applying in the heat of battle and a ten year time limit on investigations during that time.
I would welcome the opportunity to sit on any working party looking into this.