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UK government announces plans to end all prosecutions of ex-paramilitaries and former soldiers in Troubles-era cases

The Government has announced plans for a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions of ex-paramilitaries and former members of the security forces in Troubles-era cases.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis confirmed the plans in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, saying he plans to bring the legislation to Parliament in the autumn.

"We know that the prospect of the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept, and this is not a position that we take lightly," said Mr Lewis.

"But we have arrived at the view that this would be the best way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process, and the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation.

"It is a painful recognition of the reality of where we are,” he added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "The sad fact remains that there are many members of the armed services who continue to face the threat of vexatious prosecutions well into their 70s and 80s.

"We are finally bringing forward a solution to this problem, to enable the people of Northern Ireland to draw a line under the Troubles and to enable the people of Northern Ireland to move forward."

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Brandon Lewis making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons today

Brandon Lewis making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons today

PA

Brandon Lewis making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons today

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A “short, sharp” period of talks with the local parties and the Irish government will now take place, however, the legislation covering the statute of limitations is expected to begin its journey through the Commons by the autumn.

A truth recovery process alongside a story-telling project will go ahead as agreed in the Stormont House Agreement.

Families can ask for a report on their loved one’s death, with input from republicans, loyalists and the security forces. Suspects will not be named in the reports but the Government has promised a greater degree of disclosure, in terms of confidential files.

As well as criminal investigations, the Government is also seeking to close down all Troubles-related inquests and civil cases.

According to the Government’s figures, there are over 1,000 civil claims against the MoD, Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and other State agencies, “very few are currently at trial stage and a significant number are yet to progress beyond the initial stage of a court order being issued”.

The cost of those cases, according to the document, is £500m in legal aid since 2011.

The command paper published by the Secretary of State says the Government intend to look “holistically at all forms of investigations - including civil and coronial processes relating to the Troubles, which like criminal processes, involve an approach that can create obstacles to achieving wider reconciliation”.

“We are therefore considering a proposed way forward that would end judicial activity in relation to Troubles-related conduct across the spectrum of criminal cases, and current and future civil cases and inquests.

“We recognise that these are challenging proposals. However, ongoing litigation processes often fail to deliver for families and victims, and their continued presence in a society which is trying to heal from the wounds of its past risks preventing it being able to move forward.

“The time and effort used in these cases is demonstrated in some of the statistics set out below. This could be better focused towards supporting and facilitating information recovery in a process which is meaningful, rigorous and which offers families and victims timely access to as much information as possible.”

The proposals, aimed at protecting former soldiers from any future criminal investigations, have been condemned .

Campaign group Ulster Human Rights Watch (UHRW) said the Government’s legacy proposals “are a betrayal to victims and former police and military veterans”.

Axel Schmidt of UHRW said: “To equate officers and military veterans – agents of the State - in the same bracket as those who were hell-bent on murdering them makes a laughing-stock out of our system of justice.”

Grainne Teggart, of Amnesty International said: "The UK government is showing an appalling and offensive disregard for victims; grossly dismissing their suffering and rights to truth, justice and accountability.

“In pursuing a statute of limitations to put state forces and other perpetrators above the law and beyond accountability, government debases natural justice.”

The controversial plans have been met with anger by relatives of victims of the Troubles.

Julie Hambleton, whose sister, Maxine, was among 21 people killed in the IRA bombing of Birmingham, has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, accusing his government of having lost “all sight of its moral, ethical and judicial backbone”.

Michael O’Hare, brother of 12 year old Majella O’Hare, shot dead by an Army soldier in 1976, said: “These proposals are an utter and unacceptable betrayal - they must not succeed. The UK Government is inflicting great pain on my family and other victims denied justice.”


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