The Conservative Party will go into next month's general election pledging to alter the Human Rights Act to prevent military veterans being prosecuted for killings in the Northern Ireland troubles, according to press reports.
Today's Daily Telegraph leads with news that the first draft of the Conservative manifesto includes a promise that a new Tory government would 'consider legislation that draws a clear line under the past'. An amendment to the Human Rights Act would bar prosecutions where 'no new evidence has been produced and when accusations have already been exhaustively questioned'.
More than 200 former soldiers are understood to be under current criminal investigation for deaths during the troubles.
The news follows a call by US General David Petraeus, former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, on the UK end what he calls the 'judicialisation of conflict'. In a foreword to a report by thinktank Policy Exchange, Petraeus condemns the 'unfair pursuit of British soldiers and veterans in the aftermath of operations'. Under the displacement of the Law of Armed Conflict by European human rights law, British soldiers are increasingly subject to a different legal regime than are their American counterparts, Petraeus states. 'The extension of the European Convention on Human Rights to the battlefield has made extensive litigation against British soldiers inevitable. This, in turn, risks promoting a culture of risk aversion in the ranks. In Afghanistan, it undermined the British military’s authority to detain enemy combatants and also to work with the Afghan government and NATO allies.'
Policy Exchange's report, Resisting the Judicialisation of War recommends that the next government should:
- Maintain of a policy of derogating from the ECHR in advance of future operations and legislate to put this policy on a statutory footing
- Amend the Human Rights Act 1998 to limit its extra-territorial operation, and
- Resolve not to comply with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights that extend the ECHR to military operations abroad.
- Amend the Human Rights Act to specify that it does not apply to events that took place before the act came into force in October 2000,
The paper recommends the formation of a new commission to review 'lawfare' against UK forces.
Co author Professor Richard Ekins, Head of Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project, said: 'The next government has a moral and strategic responsibility to resist the judicialisation of conflict. It should act swiftly to restore the primacy of the law of armed conflict, which is the body of law, together with service law, that properly governs the actions of British soldiers on operations abroad.
'Amending the Human Rights Act 1998 to limit its extra-territorial application would restore the act’s originally intended meaning and would help bring an end to litigation challenging operations of UK forces while in the field and to the unfair pursuit of UK forces who served in these operations.'
Meanwhile Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party's manifesto would include five major pledges to support the forces, including ending the public sector pay cap and consulting on creating a representative body, similar to the Police Federation, for service men and women.