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UK to introduce five-year cut-off point in bid to end re-investigations into soldiers who served in NI

The plans will deliver on the government’s promise to protect its former soldiers.

A veteran protests the prosecution of former British soldiers for wartime killings held outside the Houses of Parliament last year
A veteran protests the prosecution of former British soldiers for wartime killings held outside the Houses of Parliament last year
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT has pledged to “end the cycle of re-investigations” in a set of proposals to deal with the North’s troubled past.

Under the new proposals, there will be a legal bar on any future investigation occurring once cases have been considered.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said ending repeated re-investigations, where there is no new compelling evidence, will deliver on the government’s promise to protect former soldiers from “vexatious claims”.

The range of proposals come after the government promised to deliver a way forward on legacy matters within 100 days of the ‘New Decade New Approach’ deal, agreed in January to allow the Stormont Executive to resume after a three-year absence.

They include a pledge to ensure that the North’s British Army veterans receive equal treatment to their counterparts who served overseas.

The proposals also include a “new independent body” to provide information to families and “swift examinations” of all unresolved deaths from the Troubles.

Only cases where there is “new compelling evidence and a realistic prospect of a prosecution” will be investigated as part of the measures.

Attorney General’s consent required

Meanwhile, once cases have been considered, there will be a legal bar on any future investigation occurring.

The bill would introduce a five-year cut-off point from the date of an incident unless there are “exceptional” circumstances, meaning it would be in the interests of justice to prosecute.

New prosecutions would also require the consent of the Attorney General before they can proceed.

If passed, the bill would further require the court to consider the operational context of an incident when deciding whether to extend the normal time limits for bringing civil claims for injury or death.

This requirement would also extend to claims brought under the Human Rights Act in connection with overseas operations.

There would also be an absolute limit of six years from the date of the incident for bringing civil claims of personal injury or death or Human Rights Act claims in connection with overseas operations.

ECHR opt-out

The law would also compel future governments to consider opting out of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to significant overseas military operations to avoid claims being brought under the act.

The package also proposed a central resource to be created to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles.

Lewis said victims have been at the heart of the government approach to “help the region move on to a brighter future”.

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“I hope that by giving as many families as possible information on how their loved ones lost their lives, we can help ease the difficult process of reconciliation,” he said.

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Armed Forces for their service in Northern Ireland.

“That’s why these proposals also put an end to repeated re-investigations where there is no new compelling evidence and deliver on our promise to protect veterans from vexatious claims.”

The government will now begin engagement with the North’s political parties, and the Irish government, to discuss the proposals in detail.

Responding to the announcement, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that changes to the Stormont House Agreement framework, agreed in 2014, must be agreed by both the Irish and UK governments, as well as the Northern Ireland executive.

“Only through a collective approach can we hope to deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly, and in a way that responds to the needs of victims and survivors, and society as a whole,” he said.

He added that there should be effective investigations into all Troubles-related deaths, regardless of the perpetrator, and said the Irish government would not support any special measures regarding the investigation of state or non-state actors in the North.

With reporting from Stephen McDermott

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