Troubles amnesty could breach human rights convention, MPs argue

Northern secretary Brandon Lewis says onus is on government to guarantee compliance

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis arriving in Downing Street. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis arriving in Downing Street. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty

 

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis has told MPs that his government’s amnesty for Troubles-related crimes will include “proper investigations” that comply with international human rights obligations. He told the Northern Ireland affairs committee that Westminster could pass legislation by next summer to end all inquests, prosecutions, criminal investigations and civil actions relating to such crimes.

The DUP’s Ian Paisley and Alliance’s Stephen Farry suggested to Mr Lewis that the government’s plan could breach article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“My understanding and the understanding I had from numerous legal experts in Northern Ireland, including prosecutors, is that for an investigation of any nature to be compliant with article 2, the very least it has to have is the theoretical possibility of a prosecution being taken,” Mr Farry said.

“And if it doesn’t have the prospect of a prosecution being taken, then it cannot be an article 2-compliant investigation.”

Mr Lewis said an information-recovery body would provide the opportunity for investigating the circumstances surrounding alleged crimes committed by paramilitaries or members of the security forces.

“We’ve got to ensure that what we do with the information-recovery body and how it works is article 2-compliant, that’s an onus on us. Obviously we will be challenged around that, so it’s absolutely paramount for us to ensure that it is,” he said.

“I would hope that when we eventually come forward with final proposals once we’ve made final decisions around these things, that people will see that what we are looking to do is compliant, will be compliant, because it is taking forward investigations in a proper way.”

United in opposition

The UK government’s proposals for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles have united all Northern Ireland’s political parties and the Irish Government in opposition to them.

The 2014 Stormont House Agreement envisaged a historical investigations unit to investigate Troubles killings; an independent commission on information retrieval where perpetrators could tell the truth about their involvement without fear of prosecution; and an oral history archive where victims and others could tell their stories of the conflict. The UK government’s new proposal would instead rule out prosecution or imprisonment for any alleged Troubles offences committed before 1998 apart from war crimes, genocide and torture.

The SDLP’s Claire Hanna said that any information-recovery body must be able to demand access to classified British state documents that could cast light on the circumstances surrounding alleged crimes. “If this is really about truth recovery, and not about stopping the embarrassment of people who were engaged in a very, very dirty war, what possible reason would there be not to give those powers?” she said.

In the House of Commons earlier, Mr Lewis reassured Conservative backbenchers of his commitment to ending “vexatious claims” against former British service personnel over their activities in Northern Ireland. “We have been engaging with interested parties in the past couple of months, including not just the veterans community but victims, civic society and, more widely, the political parties in Northern Ireland,” he said.