CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

NIO – STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IS NOT AN AMNESTY – 9 September 2019

[The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Julian Smith):  ... We have been clear that the current system for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is not working well, and this needs to change. As the Prime Minister said recently in this House, it is “common ground” across all Benches that it is simply

“not right that former soldiers should face unfair”–[Official Report, 25 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1467] –

and repeated investigations, with no new evidence, many years after the events in question. Two very important further amendments have been submitted, and I want to address these in turn.]

Dr Julian Lewis: I apologise for intervening so soon after entering the Chamber, but as the Secretary of State has just referred to my amendment, I will take that liberty. Will he just acknowledge one thing? When the Defence Committee recommends a qualified statute of limitations, in the absence of compelling new evidence, on the question of the pursuit of people long after the events concerned, does he accept that that is not the same as an amnesty and should not be ruled out in the same way as people do rule out an amnesty?

[Julian Smith: I want to take care about prejudging the work that the Government have put in place, cross-Government. As my right hon. Friend is aware, the Prime Minister has set a new focus on this issue, and I ​am sure he will be inputting into that. I will be working, along with the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office, to move that issue forward.

I absolutely recognise the sentiment and the principle underpinning the amendments on legacy, and I recognise the strength of feeling across this House on this matter. We have been clear that the current system for dealing with the legacy is not working well, and we will move forward in the ways I have discussed. While we want to find a better way to address these issues, to do so through the presumption of non-prosecution would pose a range of challenges and may not provide a complete solution to the issues at play.

A presumption of non-prosecution in the absence of compelling new evidence is likely to need to be applied to everyone involved in troubles-related incidents, including former terrorists. However, implementing these provisions would not remove the obligations under domestic criminal law and international obligations under the European convention on human rights for independent investigations of serious allegations. With regards to troubles prosecution guidance, hon. Members will of course be aware that criminal investigations are carried out independently of the Government. Prosecutorial decisions and the guidance that underpins them are devolved matters in Northern Ireland.

Mr Iain Duncan Smith: I apologise for interrupting the Secretary of State in mid-flow, and I know people want to get on. However, as someone who served over in Northern Ireland – and following the question from our right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), which he stepped around – may I repeat this back to him? Even though he is reiterating the issues about criminal prosecutions and other jurisdictions, the point still remains, as my right hon. Friend said – this is what people have been asking for – that we should not just bring somebody in on the basis of a trawl in the hope that something new will turn up. The issue is that having to have compelling evidence to pursue an individual is critical. That does not impact on any criminal activities or any effective future prosecutions, because they would face the same issue.

Julian Smith: I think my right hon. Friend, who has spoken very persuasively on this issue for many years, makes some important points, but I return to the fact that the Government are looking at all these issues in our cross-Whitehall review. ...]