Politics

Military prosecutions: NI veterans not covered by proposed legislation

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British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland will be excluded from proposed legislation designed to protect veterans from unfounded prosecutions.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told MPs the law, to be tabled on Wednesday, would cover “overseas operations” only.

But he said ministers would also set out the next steps to give Northern Ireland veterans “equal” protection.

Conservative MPs have waged a long-running campaign to put a stop to “vexatious” legal actions.

In their election manifesto, the Conservatives promised action on the issue within 100 days if they were re-elected on 12 December.

The government said last month’s power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland struck a balance between supporting British veterans and giving victims of the Troubles the chance to seek justice.

The agreement, which revived the Northern Ireland Executive and Stormont assembly, included plans for a body to investigate unsolved murders in Northern Ireland between the late 1960s and 1990s.

Wednesday’s legislation, first promised last summer, would protect British veterans from investigation over actions on the battlefield abroad after 10 years, except in “exceptional circumstances”.

There would be a statutory presumption against prosecution for current or former armed forces personnel, including those who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, except where compelling evidence had emerged.

The legislation has been championed by former army officer Johnny Mercer, now the minister in charge of veterans’ affairs.

Ministers have repeatedly said they would like to extend protection from “repeated or unfair investigations” to troops who served in Northern Ireland but warned of the complexity of the legal and political issues involved.

During Ministry of Defence Questions in the House of Commons, Mr Wallace confirmed the bill would “deal with overseas operations” only.

But he added: “We, however, will accompany it with a statement from the Northern Ireland Office setting out what we will do to deal with Northern Ireland veterans as well. And they will be as equal, as similar, to the protections we’re going to look at overseas.”

Six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are currently facing prosecution.

Last year, the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland said of 26 “legacy cases” it had ruled on since 2011, 13 related to republicans, eight to loyalists, and five were connected to the Army.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Wallace said just 0.03% of the 295,000 British personnel who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan had been convicted of any offence.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-51915343

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