Senior officials considered attempting to bring in a new “killing” offence less serious than murder for members of the security forces who had killed, a confidential document reveals.
A memo from PWJ Buxton referred to a letter on the issue from the Secretary of State Douglas Hurd to Sir Geoffrey Howe.
Mr Buxton said that he had discussed the proposal with Home Office officials whose view, he said, was “coloured” by the fact that “the problem has not presented itself in England in the way that it has here, through shooting incidents involving both soldiers and policemen”.
“They agree nevertheless that if a change were to be made in the law, it is desirable in a context such as this that Northern Ireland should not act alone. (It seems, as often, that Scottish law has already got it right).”
He said that the Home Office had raised several “technical” difficulties with the proposal, among which was the belief that “the precise formula defining the new offence might be extremely hard to arrive at”.
He added: “We have at present no clue to the Attorney’s [General] likely attitude, beyond the view that Northern Ireland ought not to legislate alone.
“But the Director of Public Prosecutions has briefed the Attorney in a sense that suggests that he would be content with a change in the law on the lines recommended by the Criminal Law Revision Committee (that is that ‘where a person has killed using excessive force in the prevention of crime in a situation in which it was reasonable for some force to be used and at the time of the act he honestly believed that the force he used was reasonable in the circumstances, we consider that he should not be convicted of murder but should be liable to be convicted of manslaughter’.)”
However, Mr Buxton said that he could not be certain that the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding (GoC) would support the proposal.
“Their views may well be mixed, since the effect of the change could be on the one hand to ensure that those at risk were convicted of a lesser offence, but on the other that more of them were charged and convicted.”