Plans for statute of limitation will be unveiled in Parliament today
Legislation for a statute of limitation for all Troubles-related murders is expected to be passed by as early as next month.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis will deliver the Government’s plan for dealing with legacy to Parliament this afternoon.
While the cut-off date for the statute of limitation on any further investigations or prosecutions is most likely to be April 1998, loyalist paramilitary groups have been pushing to have it extended to 2005 to cover feud-related murders.
Sandra Peake, chief executive of the Wave Trauma Centre, said: “A statute of limitation removes the glimmer of hope from those victims still seeking justice.”
She also described it as “unfair” that victims are hearing updates about the process of dealing with the past through the media, rather than from the Government.
The legislation, which is expected to be put before Westminster in August, will also cover cases currently under consideration by the Public Prosecution Service, but will not apply to cases already before the courts.
They include republican John Downey, who is charged with murdering two UDR members in 1972; David Holden, a former Grenadier Guardsman charged with the manslaughter of Aidan McAnespie in February 1988, and Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea’s Boston College Tapes case.
The loyalist is facing 19 charges relating to offences allegedly committed between 1973 and 1996. They include aiding and abetting the murders of two Catholics — John Devine in 1989 and John O'Hara in 1991 — as well as conspiracy to make a threat to kill LVF leader Billy Wright in August 1996.
The statute will apply across the board to former members of the security forces as well as all ex-paramilitaries.
It is also expected to cover the Coroner’s Court, bringing to an end any future fresh inquests into Troubles-related killings, but again will not be applied to cases already in the court system.
The five main political parties, victims' groups and the Irish Government all oppose the plans, saying it amounts to an amnesty.
The Government recently announced it would be holding "short and focused" talks on the legacy issue. One meeting with the party leaders has already taken place.
The Government plans a three-strand approach, with the statute of limitation to be announced at the same time as an information recovery process and a story telling project, to document the stories of all those involved in the conflict.
It is understood that while the Government is open to negotiations about what form the information recovery process will take, it has already started to draw up legislation on the statute on further prosecutions and will push ahead with that regardless of local political opinion.
There are more than 3,200 unsolved Troubles killings.
The Stormont House Agreement had proposed an Historic Investigations Unit that would re-examine all unsolved killings, seeking where possible new evidence that might support a prosecution.
The unilateral move by the Government rips up that aspect of Stormont House, but retains the other two mechanisms — information recovery and story telling.
Mr Lewis is expected to claim that the plans are not an amnesty, nor are they a pardon.
It comes following the decision by the PPS to withdraw proceedings against two Army veterans — Soldier F for the murder of two men during Bloody Sunday in 1972 and the attempted murder of others, and Soldier B for the murder of 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty, shot twice in the head six months later.
This followed a review of the cases after the collapse of court proceedings against two former members of the Parachute Regiment in connection with the murder of Official IRA leader Joe McCann in 1972.
A legal challenge to the decision to withdraw proceedings against Soldier F is ongoing.
The case was due to be formally dismissed in court last week, but the challenge launched by Ciaran Shiels of Madden and Finucane solicitors acting on behalf of a brother of William McKinney forced an adjournment.
Leave has been granted for a judicial review into the PPS's decision not to proceed with the prosecution. The case is due to be heard in September, although what impact any new legislation will have on it is unclear.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, using parliamentary privilege, named Soldier F in the Commons yesterday. However, a court order banning his identification remains in place while proceedings are still live.