Dennis Hutchings appeals to Europe after new law protecting veterans from vexatious prosecutions excludes Troubles service

A former soldier wants the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to judge on alleged discrimination after government legislation to protect veterans excluded those who served in NI.

By Philip Bradfield
Thursday, 29th April 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Friday, 30th April 2021, 10:32 am
Former Soldier  Dennis Hutchings appears at Armagh Court
Former Soldier Dennis Hutchings appears at Armagh Court

According to London legal firm McCue & Partners, veterans who served in NI are up to 54 times more likely than republican paramilitaries to be prosecuted for alleged offences that pre-date the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

The firm argues that the government must now decide whether to allow veterans to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming discrimination and a breach of their human rights.

McCue & Partners said that the government promised for years to introduce legislation to protect these veterans from “vexatious and discriminatory treatment” but that “thwarted by Northern Ireland politics and kowtowing to those who would seek to whitewash the IRA’s role in the history of the Troubles, it has failed to do so”.

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Last week Westminster veterans minister Johnny Mercer resigned in protest when legislation to protect veterans from vexatious prosecutions excluded those who served in Northern Ireland.

To break the political impasse, McCue & Partners have written to the government asking for consent to proceed immediately to the European Court of Human Rights for an expedited hearing.

The firm is representing English veteran Dennis Hutchings, whose trial for shooting a civilian in disputed circumstances in Co Tyrone in 1974 starts in October.

The firm argues that dozens of further prosecutions are expected soon and veterans have no time to wait.

Mr Hutchings said: “The government has let us down. It always has. Promise after promise has been broken. We just can’t wait any longer while the human rights of those who fought to protect this country’s security are trampled over. It’s time to let the courts decide.”

Matthew Jury, managing partner of McCue & Partners, added: “Refusing Mr Hutchings’ request would be a clear abdication of government’s responsibility to the veterans and to keep its clear promises to protect them. If Westminster cannot act to halt inexcusable discriminatory treatment of Army veterans, then it must step aside and allow Strasbourg to do so.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “The government has been clear that it will bring forward legislation to address the legacy of the Troubles which focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims, and ends the cycle of investigations. We are committed to making progress on this as quickly as possible.”

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