A former head of the Army has expressed dismay at reports that legislation to protect military veterans from prosecution has been jettisoned from the Queen’s Speech in favour of laws on ‘sustainable cat litter’.
But the Prime Minister has reportedly been persuaded to omit the legislation from the Queen’s Speech on Monday by Number 10 advisers and officials in the Northern Ireland Office.
Boris Johnson (pictured) had promised to end the ‘witch hunt’ of soldiers over historic allegations of offences
The proposed law would have included a statutory presumption against prosecution for current or former personnel for alleged offences committed in the course of duty more than 10 years ago.
Compelling new evidence would be needed to delve back into old cases, with historic prosecutions only in the public interest in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
A Whitehall source told the
They added: ‘There will be nothing in there for veterans. It’s very disappointing.
‘Boris wanted it in there but the people around him showed a lack of interest in having it included in the Queen’s Speech.’
General Lord Dannatt, a former chief of the general staff, said he is ‘very disappointed’ at the move.
General Lord Dannatt (pictured), a former chief of the general staff, said he is ‘very disappointed’ at the move
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘It is a really major issue here which the Government has got to address.
‘It is unacceptable that serving soldiers, particularly large numbers of former soldiers, run the risk of prosecution as a result of operations conducted worldwide and including in Northern Ireland.
‘Nobody is above the law. If soldiers have broken the law and if there is evidence to back up charges against them, then of course they must face the rigours of the law and take the consequences.
‘But in the vast majority of cases, British soldiers, particularly in the campaign in Northern Ireland, got up in the morning to do their duty to keep the peace according to the rules of engagement we had, in sharp contrast to terrorists who got up in the morning whose aim was to maim and kill.’
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘It is a really major issue here which the Government has got to address’
When former soldier and veterans minister Johnny Mercer was asked on Twitter what he thought of the news, he replied: ‘Let’s see.’
He later added: ‘Lots of noise on this this morning. Boris has made it clear – repeated and vexatious litigation against troops – including Northern Ireland – will end.
‘He tasked me personally with it on appointment; that direction has not changed in any way.’
Downing Street said: ‘The PM has been clear that we need to end the unfair trials of people who served their country when no new evidence has been produced and when the accusations have been exhaustively questioned in court.
‘There are different views on how to move forward and effectively address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.
‘That said, we are determined to make progress and legislate on the issue of legacy prosecutions.’
The Northern Ireland office is believed to feel unsure over any amnesty for former Troubles soldiers without agreement in Stormont.
There are understood to be four former Army servicemen facing prosecution for murder and attempted murder during conflict, with up to 200 veterans under investigation.