Veterans' 'amnesty' will apply to terrorists, MPs told
Any attempt to introduce a statute of limitations for soldiers facing Troubles-era allegations will only ensure terrorists also escape potential prosecutions, a Westminster committee has been told.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was discussing legacy issues yesterday with two Queen's University law professors.
Professor Louise Mallinder told the committee she was concerned that any statute of limitations would not be compatible with the UK's international legal requirements and would not be supportive of the peace process.
"We think, under the European Convention on Human Rights, there is a clear obligation for effective investigations of serious human rights violations," she said.
"A statute of limitations might conflict with those obligations, creating an obstacle to effective investigations being held.
"The question would be: 'How would the idea of repeat investigations be treated?' And if it was treated in a way to prevent any of those cases being reviewed that's when the statute of limitations would begin to resemble an amnesty," she said.
"That would be deeply damaging in Northern Ireland and would undermine the Stormont House proposals, and I think would be damaging to Britain's reputation in the world."
Fellow law professor Kieran McEvoy added that there was widespread consensus that the effect of introducing some form of amnesty or statute of limitations will make it impossible to prosecute the non-State actions of paramilitaries.
"You would be giving a de facto amnesty for paramilitaries," he told MPs. "There would need to be honest conversations with victims and others."
Conservative committee member Bob Stewart MP, who served in Northern Ireland as a soldier, argued that in the early days of the Troubles, soldiers, particularly after 1973, "were really turned over" in investigations.
"To us, it didn't seem like the military or indeed the Royal Ulster Constabulary were on our side if you were on the receiving end of one of these investigations," he said.
"It was utterly overwhelming and a real problem as we were also trying to keep the peace at the same time as being investigated. It was extremely traumatic."
Prof McEvoy also attacked the UUP's calls to scrap the Stormont House Agreement as "morally outrageous".
"There is one political party and it seems to be playing fast and loose with 'let's dump the Stormont House Agreement' and not suggesting any alternative - that's the Ulster Unionist Party - and I find their statement on this morally outrageous," he said.
The criticism was been rejected by UUP justice spokesman Doug Beattie.
"Any agreement that puts the interests of victims behind those of the perpetrators is morally corrupt and we make no apology for rejecting proposals that will ignore tens of thousands of innocent victims," he said.