Belfast Telegraph

Veterans accused of minor offences should be protected, lawyer says

Martyn Day said Germany has a statute of limitations system, which he said seemed like a ‘very good idea’.

Veterans accused of minor offences during their service should be protected from prosecution by a statute of limitations, a lawyer involved in claims against British troops has suggested.

Martyn Day, senior partner and co-founder of law firm Leigh Day, said there was a “massive difference” between severe torture and abuse and “lower grade” offences.

Mr Day told the Commons Defence Committee: “I totally am of the view that, true in Iraq, true with Afghanistan, true with Northern Ireland, that there has to be a proper investigation to get to the bottom of what has happened for us as a society to learn the lessons from that and to move on.

“A crucial question is whether that will ever result in sufficient evidence being put forward to lead to individual prosecutions in Ireland.”

But he said the longer the time after the event, the “less the chances of a successful prosecution”.

Mr Day told MPs that Germany has a statute of limitations system that ties into lower grade injury and assaults, which he said seemed like a “very good idea”.

“I think there is a massive difference between very severe torture and abuse as against lower grade things,” he explained.

“What I felt was, when it comes to murder, when it comes to alleged murder, when it comes to the most serious of damage, then I think it is very difficult to say that soldiers should be treated any differently to any other people within society.”

He said that while he accepted the prospect of successfully prosecuting was small, he believed the principles of human rights and decency meant it was not right to call for a statute of limitations for such crimes.

The Government has consulted on new mechanisms for investigating past killings.

Last year, more than 30 Tory MPs supported a backbench proposal for a 20-year time limit on reopening cases involving former members of the armed forces who served in Northern Ireland.

Later in the meeting, Mr Day said that he had “never” met any of the veterans who had been at the receiving end of cases his firm has brought.

It prompted Tory committee member and former defence minister Mark Francois to remark: “I don’t know how you sleep at night – I really, really don’t.”

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