By Sophie Morris
Belfast Telegraph Online – 13 March 2020
The Government will introduce a Bill to protect veterans from vexatious legal claims next week, a defence minister has announced.
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said he will introduce a Bill next Wednesday "that meets our manifesto commitment on the issue" and warned that days of lawyers "trying to rewrite history in order to make money are over". But North Down Alliance MP Stephen Farry raised concerns that the proposal "undermines the criminal justice system".
On Armistice Day the Tories promised that if they won the election they would change the law to protect veterans from vexatious legal claims and prosecutions against British soldiers accused of wrongdoing on the battlefield. This includes against allegations of abuse or unlawful killing.
Tory MP and former chair of the Defence Committee Julian Lewis asked:
"When will the Government be bringing forward the promised legislation, and I have in mind the promise made on Armistice Day last year during the election campaign, to stop the repeated re-investigation of veterans in the absence of any compelling new evidence?"
Mr Mercer replied:
"I can confirm to the House that I will be introducing a Bill on Wednesday next week that meets our manifesto commitment on this issue. This Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that the days of lawyers running amok in our services and our veterans' community trying to rewrite history in order to make money are over."
But the issue of what to do with killings that took place during the Troubles has proved controversial. Mr Farry said:
"I do challenge this narrative of vexatious claims being made against veterans, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland. It undermines the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, which has the ability to weed out such claims."
"If we end up putting in place some sort of measure to give unnecessary protection and warping the rule of law, that may end up de-legitimising and undermining the integrity of their service that they are rightly very proud of."
Mr Mercer said he would "tread down this path with utmost care". Describing it as "a challenge", he added that:
"what we are going to do is ensure that the balance and fairness in this process is restored so that those who have served their country and done nothing wrong can retire from their military service in peace".