If legacy prosecutions are halted then inquiries must be too

The government is said to be working on a plan to put a time-limit of 10 years on the prosecution of soldiers for killings.

Monday, 4th March 2019, 3:41 pm
Updated Monday, 4th March 2019, 4:45 pm
News Letter editorial

It is reported that the Defence Secretary will bring forward the legislation amid controversy at the threat of murder trials for veterans of Northern Ireland and other conflicts.

There are powerful arguments in favour of such an approach, given the one-sided way in which the legacy of the Troubles has been examined in recent years.

But there are powerful arguments against it too.

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One such argument is that it demeans the forces of law and order to suggest that they need to be put above the legal process in any way.

Another argument against amnesties in general is that terrorists would also benefit from them, including those who carried out mass murders.

This specific proposal is perhaps aimed at avoiding such an outcome. But even so, what if human rights lawyers one day argued, for example, that an Isis supporter who was later implicated in an atrocity that had happened 10 years previously should not be prosecuted because he felt that he was fighting a war, and on the grounds of natural justice he too should be exempt from prosecution?

These are details that will be thrashed out if any legislation begins to pass through Parliament. The government, in the meantime, is to be applauded for examining different ways to redress what is happening on legacy.

One thing, however, must not happen: that amnesties of some shape or form are implemented, and then continuing non criminal inquiries or investigations into legacy matters are approved.

Such inquiries, decided on the balance of probabilities (as opposed to the criminal standard) will put the state at a massive. The only way to balance that would be to set up a wave of specific non criminal inquiries into republican terrorism.