Immunity for Soldiers — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:45 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 6:45 pm, 20th May 2019

That is an outstanding point, and I entirely agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells made a similar point. I have not prosecuted or defended military cases such as these, but I have in cases of affray and assault. As any criminal barrister will say, if there are 10 witnesses to an affray, there will be 10 different versions of events. There are many reasons for that. Part of it is perception, but is also because everyone is involved in a stressful situation, and that has an effect on the brain. Of course, that is exacerbated over the course of months and years as time passes.

We would probably accept that there may be a need for investigations, but, as my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith said—I am glad he has returned to his place—it is a question of natural justice. If someone has been acquitted after being investigated by a proper competent authority, there comes a point when there should be no repeat investigations into those historical matters. That is close to the double jeopardy rule, which used to exist except in certain circumstances.

I do not accept that there is no way in which the law can deal with these cases. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for indicating that a statute of limitations or a presumption not to prosecute—which amount to much the same thing—will be considered for those who served outside the UK. However, it would be incredibly difficult to apply two different regimes to a soldier who had happened to serve in both Iraq or Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. It is difficult to see how that would be a logically sustainable position for justice and the law of the land.

The point, essentially, is this: those who have put everything on the line for us are entitled, at the very least, to us drawing a line at a point after which they know they will not have to fear a knock on the door in the night. They should not have to fear a cavalcade of police cars taking them away when they are in their old age. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her indication, but there are ways in which this matter can be dealt with. A statute of limitations would provide a safeguard for exceptional circumstances and new evidence; the same is true of a presumption not to prosecute. As I observed in our previous debate on this issue, civil law—which, obviously, is not the same—offers a similar safeguard for when matters come to light years later. To give one example off the top of my head, a witness may appear who had never been seen before. The law is able to do that; what we need is the political will.

This has been going on for far too long. Those who served in Northern Ireland are entitled to know that their country has got their back, just as they had their country’s back at the time of maximum peril. We have had enough talk. We need action, and we need it now.