Seven former paratroopers who are facing questioning over the Bloody Sunday shootings have asked leading judges in London to make an order preventing them from being arrested and taken to Northern Ireland to be interviewed by police.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and two other judges, sitting at the High Court, were told by their QC that they were willing to give an “undertaking” to the court to “voluntarily attend for an interview under caution” in England and Wales in relation to events in 1972.
Today is the first public hearing of the judicial review action brought by the ex-soldiers against the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) - a case described by Lord Thomas as being one of “considerable interest” to the public.
James Lewis QC, for the men, told the judges: “At the heart of the application before the court today is that the defendant wishes to interview the claimants. We have no issue with that.
“He is entitled to do so, and we accept that. However, the defendant seeks to exercise his power of arrest in order to interview the claimants under caution in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Lewis added: “He has already made a decision to arrest all the claimants, but he has undertaken not to put that into effect pending the challenge before this court. It is his decision to arrest for that purpose that we challenge.”
Referring to the fact that the former paratroopers would co-operate by attending interviews held in England and Wales, Mr Lewis said: “Consequential upon that undertaking we would seek an order from this court prohibiting the defendant from arresting the claimants in order to interview them under caution in Northern Ireland.”
At the centre of the case is the way the PSNI is conducting its historical probe into the deaths of 14 civil rights demonstrators in Londonderry.
The legal action being considered by the three judges was lodged with the High Court after the arrest of a former colleague in Northern Ireland - the first ex-soldier detained.
The arrest of the 66-year-old, who was held in Co Antrim and later released on police bail, was welcomed by relatives of those killed.
A petition calling for soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday to be granted immunity from prosecution has gained tens of thousands of supporters.
Thirteen people were killed by members of the Parachute Regiment on the day of the incident in Derry’s Bogside. Another victim of the shootings died in hospital four months later.
Northern Ireland police launched the murder investigation in 2012. It was initiated after a Government-commissioned inquiry, undertaken by Lord Saville, found that none of the victims was posing a threat to soldiers when they were shot.
Following the publication of the Saville report in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for the Army’s actions, branding them “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
In September, the PSNI told bereaved families they intended to interview a number of former soldiers about their involvement on the day.