Is troops witch-hunt over at last? Boris Johnson could give Attorney General a veto on the prosecution of military veterans who served in Northern Ireland
- Former soldiers have been dragged to court over deaths during the Troubles
- Boris may hand the say on prosecution to Attorney General Suella Braverman
- Government is committed to announcing a system for historic military cases
Boris Johnson may give his Attorney General the final say over prosecutions of UK troops to end the witch-hunt of veterans who served in Northern Ireland.
It would extend the chief legal adviser’s powers after former soldiers, now in their seventies, were dragged to court over deaths during the Troubles half a century ago.
The Government is committed to announcing a system for historic military cases by Wednesday, 100 days after the general election.
Handing the say on prosecution to Attorney General Suella Braverman will let the Government end prosecutions that aren’t in the public interest, ministers believe.
Handing the say on prosecution to Attorney General Suella Braverman (pictured) will let the Government end prosecutions that aren’t in the public interest, ministers believe
It would allow her to overturn decisions made by Northern Ireland’s prosecuting authority if there was no new evidence and the killing had previously been investigated, The Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday.
A source told the paper: ‘The Prime Minister is committed to ending the prosecutions. One way is to take the final decision out of the hands of the prosecutors in Northern Ireland.’
There is a belief inside Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence that the prosecutions of soldiers have become too politicised, the source said.
But this claim has been denounced by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPSNI), which insists it is fiercely independent.
Former soldier Dennis Hutchings, 78, is due to face trial next week accused of attempting to murder a man with learning difficulties who was shot and killed running away from an Army patrol in County Armagh in 1974
Northern Ireland has its own attorney general, but he is not involved in decision-making on prosecutions. The issue of historic cases has become a difficult one for the Government.
Former soldier Dennis Hutchings, 78, is due to face trial next week accused of attempting to murder a man with learning difficulties who was shot and killed running away from an Army patrol in County Armagh in 1974. Mr Hutchings, from Cawsand, Cornwall, denies any wrongdoing. He is having kidney dialysis and the trial will have to be halted every two or three days for his treatment.
Up to 200 former soldiers are under criminal investigation over allegations of murder and other crimes in the Troubles.
Attempts to end historic prosecutions of troops have been resisted by the Northern Ireland Office, which fears it could risk peace and cause the collapse of the Assembly, which was only restored in January after a three-year suspension.
It is thought that giving a veto to the Attorney General could be enshrined in law in weeks.
But it could face a legal challenge because it threatens to undermine independent prosecutorial decision making.
The PPSNI has insisted that decisions are taken purely on the evidence it is presented with. In six years to 2017, it took ‘prosecutorial decisions’ in 19 legacy cases, of which nine involved republican paramilitaries, four concerned paramilitary loyalists, three involved former soldiers and the rest concerned ex-police officers.
A spokesman said it took ‘all of its decisions in accordance with the code for prosecutors’.
A source said: ‘It seems very odd to take decision-making away from prosecutors in Northern Ireland because Westminster thinks the process has become too political, to then give the decision to a politically-appointed lawyer.’
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