'TROUBLES AND TRIALS'
Daily Telegraph – 12 May 2018
The news that a British soldier will face trial for a fatal shooting in Northern Ireland, forty-four years ago, adds urgency to the need to prevent hundreds of cases being brought to court, even though the maximum punishment for Troubles-related killings is a derisory two-year sentence (leading article, May 10).
Last year, four professors of law confirmed to the Defence Select Committee that a Statute of Limitations, precluding future prosecutions, would conform to international law if two conditions were met. First, it must apply to all sides in the conflict – not just Service personnel and other security forces. Secondly, it must be coupled with a “truth-recovery process” in which participants in fatal incidents could speak freely without fear of prosecution. (Defence Committee evidence session, March 7, 2017)
Responding to the Committee’s subsequent report, the Government stated that it
“intends to include within its forthcoming consultation on the draft Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill a section entitled ‘Alternative approaches to addressing the past’ … The consultation will invite respondents to give their views on ‘the potential effectiveness and appropriateness of alternative approaches such as amnesties and a statute of limitations to address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past’.” (HC 549, 13 November 2017)
The Government now appears to be breaking this promise, presumably because Unionist politicians do not want terrorists to avoid prosecution and Republican politicians take the same view regarding security personnel. Yet, having had discussions with both Sinn Fein and DUP parliamentarians, I believe that both sides could live with a comprehensive solution – of the sort pioneered by Nelson Mandela in South Africa – even though, for political reasons, they cannot say so openly.
Those who lost loved ones will more likely find closure from a truth-recovery process coupled with immunity from prosecution, than from the current alternative of trials, denials and very short sentences in the event of conviction. It is up to our Government to give a lead and act decisively.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
Chairman, Defence Committee
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA