A former head of the British army said he was “very disappointed” at reports that legislation to protect military veterans from prosecution has been removed from the Queen’s speech.
Boris Johnson had promised in July to end the pursuit of soldiers over historical allegations of offences committed in operations during the Troubles in as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But according to the Daily Telegraph, Northern Ireland officials and No 10 advisers have persuaded the UK prime minister to omit the legislation from the Queen’s speech scheduled for Monday.
The proposed law would have included a statutory presumption against prosecution for current or former personnel for alleged offences committed in the course of duty more than 10 years ago.
Gen Lord Dannatt, a former chief of the general staff, said it was a major issue which the government had to address.
He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is unacceptable that serving soldiers, particularly large numbers of former soldiers, run the risk of prosecution as a result of operations conducted worldwide and including in Northern Ireland.
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“Nobody is above the law. If soldiers have broken the law and if there is evidence to back up charges against them, then of course they must face the rigours of the law and take the consequences.
“But in the vast majority of cases, British soldiers, particularly in the campaign in Northern Ireland, got up in the morning to do their duty to keep the peace according to the rules of engagement we had, in sharp contrast to terrorists who got up in the morning whose aim was to maim and kill.”
A for armed forces personnel and veterans serving in operations outside the UK closes at 11.59pm on Sunday.
The proposals include establishing in law a presumption that current or former personnel will not normally face prosecution for alleged offences committed in the course of duty abroad more than 10 years ago and creating a new partial defence to murder to allow the courts to recognise the “operational context” in which deaths occur.
Other proposals include restricting the ability of the courts to extend the time limit for bringing civil claims for personal injury or death.
on the prosecution of soldiers unless compelling new evidence emerged.
The House of Commons defence select committee also called on the government to consider amending the Human Rights Act to provide a presumption against prosecution for historical offences.
Its report criticised the government for breaking a promise to safeguard veterans of Northern Ireland’s Troubles from the “spectre” of repeated investigations of events that occurred decades ago.
MPs welcomed previous MoD proposals to opt out of the European convention on human rights during future conflicts but said under the department’s plans those who served in Northern Ireland or abroad would be subject to different legislative regimes.