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Pursuit of ex-soldiers over Troubles offences 'a denial of natural justice'

British soldiers who served during the Northern Ireland Troubles should be protected from future prosecutions by a statute of limitations, a Westminster committee has recommended.

The Defence Committee proposal comes after a number of former security forces members were recently charged with offences related to the 30-year conflict.

Along with a statute of limitations the committee has called for a truth recovery mechanism to help bereaved families.

The report stated: "It is clear from the experience of these legacy investigations that, unless a decision is taken to draw a line under all Troubles-related cases, without exception, they will continue to grind on for many years to come, up to half-a-century after the incidents concerned."

The committee said it had received evidence from legal experts that a limitation for only security force members could leave the UK open to challenge that it was legislating for "state impunity".

However, the committee did not recommend that the statute should cover all Troubles incidents.

It said the next Government should examine the legal issues raised.

The chairman of the Defence Committee, Dr Julian Lewis MP, said: "To subject former soldiers to legal pursuit under the current arrangements is wholly oppressive and a denial of natural justice."

Democratic Unionist committee member Gavin Robinson said: "The last 20 years have been marred by the completely imbalanced treatment of those who terrorised our society; and those brave service personnel who ensured they would never succeed.

"Early release of prisoners, a maximum two-year sentence for fresh terrorist convictions, odious on-the-runs legislation and a secretive scheme to issue letters of immunity have all tarnished the balance of justice."

Republican and nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland criticised the committee's recommendation.

Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly said everyone should be equal before the law.

He said there could be "no immunity for people who have murdered Irish citizens".

"The recommendation of this report by the British parliament's defence committee that there should be a statute of limitations to prevent former members of the British armed forces being convicted of historic offences is an insult to victims and survivors," said Mr Kelly.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: "No-one should be off limits to the rule of law, be they a soldier, a policeman, a member of MI5 on the one hand or on the other hand a member of the IRA, UDA, UVF, INLA or other terror gang.

"This legal principle is at the heart of the rule of law and is non-negotiable.

"That is why the report of the Defence Committee must be rejected. It cannot be allowed to prevail.

"The SDLP believes investigations or prosecutions should be without fear and favour."

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