Why PM’s pledge to curb veteran prosecutions is controversial

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

With Armistice Day marking the 101st anniversary of the end of the First World, the armed forces and veterans are a main focus of Monday’s election campaign.

Making the headlines is a Conservative pledge to prevent veterans facing “vexatious” legal action over historical allegations.

It is not the first time such a promise has been made and the policy is not without controversy.

– What is it the Tories are suggesting?

Boris Johnson wants pre-2000 warzone killings by armed forces personnel to be banned. Credit: PA

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer said under the proposals, the Human Rights Act “will be amended to specify that it doesn’t apply to issues – including NI -that took place before the Act came into force in October 2000”.

Making the announcement, Boris Johnson told veterans: “We will always support you.”

– Why do ministers believe the change is required?

The Ministry of Defence has set up an Office for Veterans Affairs to look at what has been dubbed “lawfare” – legal action against veterans based on allegedly flimsy evidence.

Former army captain Mr Mercer said: “The pernicious effects of so-called ‘lawfare’ have been a blight on this nation for too long.”

Backers of change point to the welter of claims against British soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More recently, the on-going prosecution of ‘Soldier F’ over Bloody Sunday has prompted protests by supporters who brought central London to a standstill with a motorcycle rally in April.

– Is everyone happy with the proposal?

Civilians lie bleeding on the ground after Bloody Sunday. Credit: PA

Giving veterans immunity from prosecution over historic events would be unpopular with many in Northern Ireland.

For the families of victims of Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers opened fire on civilians during a protest march in 1972, prosecutions offer the prospect of justice for their loss.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney has also said the move was “very concerning”.

In a tweet, he said that the UK and Irish governments had an agreed approach to reconciliation in Northern Ireland, adding: “The law must apply to all, without exception, to achieve reconciliation.”

Amending the Human Rights Act to exclude military personnel could also, as the Times newspaper points out, put the UK “on a collision course” with the European Court of Human Rights.

And defining “vexatious” or “pernicious” prosecutions is unlikely to prove straightforward.

But supporters of a change point to the scandal over claims of abuse of Iraqi civilians by British troops.

That scandal eventually led to one of the lawyers who brought many of the claims being struck off.

Phil Shiner, whose firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) was behind around 65% of the more than 3,500 allegations received by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, was found to have acted dishonestly in bringing multiple murder and torture claims against veterans.

– Is there universal support in the Tory party for curbing prosecutions of veterans.

A leaked memo from March this year revealed that then PM Theresa May had ruled out the idea of a statute of limitations on historic prosecutions of military personnel who served during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In May, Mr Mercer withdrew his support for Mrs May and her government over the issue.

Boris Johnson and Defence Minister Johnny Mercer (centre) at a service at the cenotaph in Wolverhampton on Monday Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Meanwhile former Tory Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley said in March: “It doesn’t matter who the perpetrator is. If a crime has been committed, they should face justice.”

– What else are the main parties pledging for veterans?

The Tories have made further promises, including tax cuts for businesses that employ veterans and a railcard offering former serving personnel a third off train fares.

Labour, meanwhile, has vowed to scrap the public sector pay cap and provide decent housing for forces and their families by ending the reliance on the private rented sector.

It will also consult on creating a representative body to give a voice for service men and women, and end privatisation – with a review on outsourcing contracts.

The Liberal Democrats have committed to scrapping settlement fees for forces personnel born outside Britain.