Key Westminster committee calls for 10-year ‘qualified statute of limitations’ for alleged offences by soldiers
A key Westminster committee has called for a 10-year “qualified statute of limitations” to protect former and serving soldiers from investigation and prosecution for alleged offences, including alleged murders of civilians in Northern Ireland.
In a report published today, the defence select committee said the Government’s proposed “presumption against prosecution” for alleged offences which took place overseas more than 10 years ago should also cover soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Although the committee acknowledged that legacy investigations in Northern Ireland “are the subject of a cross-party process and form an important strand of the talks aimed at restoring devolution”, it insisted that the treatment of the armed forces “should not be inferior in Northern Ireland to that which applies to legacy issues from conflicts overseas”.
The committee has called for primary legislation to introduce a “qualified statute of limitations” which will prevent former and serving soldiers who have previously been investigated for alleged offences from being reinvestigated unless “compelling new evidence” emerges.
The report also calls on the Government to consider amending the Human Rights Act to facilitate the presumption against prosecution.
The committee said it agreed with constitutional law expert Professor Richard Ekins that the HRA needs to be amended in order to “counter the expansionist rulings of the European Court of Human Rights”.
Commenting on the report, defence committee chairman Dr Julian Lewis MP said: “We believe in what we term a ’qualified statute of limitations’ — one that draws a line after a decade has elapsed unless compelling new evidence can be produced.
“To meet the requirements of international law that adequate investigation must have taken place, this process could include a truth recovery process where evidence can be taken, without threat of prosecution, finally to uncover the facts.”
Committee member and former soldier Johnny Mercer MP added: “The time for successive Secretaries of State to put this issue in the ‘too difficult’ box has officially passed with the conclusions of this report. There are options available to end what I consider one of the greatest injustices we self-inflict upon those who serve.
“I and others fully expect the next Prime Minister to end this ridiculous charade and legislate to prevent abuses of the legal system by those who seek to rewrite history.”