The authors of a new report into how to deal with the past in Northern Ireland have floated the idea that anyone convicted of Troubles killings would not serve any time in prison.
Under the 1998 Belfast Agreement those convicted of Troubles killings would serve a maximum of two years in prison.
But now a report written by members of the Belfast-based civil liberties group, the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) and academics from Queen’s University, Belfast have posited a situation where no-one would be imprisoned even if convicted of murder.
On Wednesday the Northern Catholic bishops issued a statement deploring proposals issued in March by Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis that would primarily focus on information recovery and reconciliation rather than investigating Troubles-related killings.
The bishops complained this was contrary to the December 2014 British-Irish Stormont House Agreement (SHA).
Under the SHA there would be an historical investigation unit to investigate Troubles killings; an independent commission on information retrieval where perpetrators could tell the truth about their involvement in Troubles killings without fear of prosecution; and an oral history archive where victims and others could tell their stories of the conflict.
Mr Lewis, however, proposed one independent body to deal with the past while also making clear that he expected very few cases would lead to prosecutions.
The new CAJ-Queen’s report - Prosecutions, Imprisonment and the Stormont House Agreement: A Critical Analysis of Proposals on Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland - published on Thursday also called for full adherence to the SHA.
The report’s authors claim there is a “drive to achieve impunity” for British soldiers who face possible charges over Troubles killings.
Professor Kieran McEvoy from the School of Law at Queen’s University complained that the British government appeared to “envisage the abandonment” of the SHA.
“It is clear that a driving influence on the UK government’s approach to legacy in recent times has been a desire to ensure that British soldiers do not go to prison for conflict-related offences,” he said.
“An unhelpful narrative has arisen falsely equating attempts to prosecute British soldiers for such offences with a ‘witch-hunt’,” he added.
The report concluded that the argument that some investigations of British soldiers were “vexatious” or “malicious” was “not intellectually credible”.
Professor Louise Mallinder of Queen's University said that "bearing in mind the government's clear determination to keep soldiers out of prison, we have also reviewed a number of options which would see the Stormont House Agreement implemented in full - but where the current two-year sentence before being considered for early release could be reduced to zero".
Professor Mallinder said that in one scenario the British government “would unconditionally reduce the two-year requirement to zero” while in the second “a reduction to zero would require engagement by the sentenced person with the information recovery element of the SHA”.