12. Mr Attwood asked the Minister of Justice for his assessment of the comments of Lord Justice Weir, during the recent review of inquest cases, on the failures of the British Army and Ministry of Defence to provide disclosure information, identify the whereabouts of former soldiers and to make former soldiers available for interview. (AQO 9679/11-16)
I am aware of previous criticism of the Ministry of Defence regarding the disclosure of material and making former soldiers available for interview for a number of legacy inquests in Northern Ireland. I am also aware of the impact that those issues can have on the ability to progress legacy inquests and on public confidence.
I wrote to the Secretary of State on 15 June 2015 asking her to raise the issue of tracing retired military witnesses directly with the Secretary of State for Defence. I asked that he consider what steps might be taken or whether additional resources could be deployed by the MOD to address the problem that the coroners have encountered with retired military witnesses. In response, the Secretary of State for Defence advised that he is conscious of the importance of securing the full participation of the widest possible range of witnesses and that the MOD would do all it reasonably could to facilitate their engagement.
I appreciate that response. However, it is clear that much more work is required in the identification and tracing of retired military witnesses and in communication with them regarding participation in the inquest process.
I also note the involvement of the MOD in the preliminary hearings on legacy inquests before Lord Justice Weir recently. Those 43 inquests with an MOD involvement represent a significant proportion of the legacy inquests that remain outstanding. I trust that the MOD will respond fully to the requests for information that Lord Justice Weir made in those hearings.