Soldiers will get new protection against being tried for murder on the battlefield, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt pledges today.
The minister is looking at ways the crime could be reduced to manslaughter in certain circumstances.
Miss Mordaunt also promises greater legal protection to military personnel facing allegations of offences committed abroad more than ten years ago.
The proposals came as MPs demanded that ministers should legislate to end the ‘witch-hunt’ of forces veterans.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt talking to army troops, during Armed Forces Day celebrations at the Hudson’s Field in Salisbury
The Commons defence committee said a ‘resolute and determined’ Government would bring in a statute of limitations to protect troops from endless vexatious investigations.
Writing for the Mail today, Miss Mordaunt says protecting veterans is a ‘personal priority’ as she pledges to crack down on thousands of ‘bogus, fabricated or poorly evidenced allegations’.
She said: ‘Veterans and serving personnel alike have been hounded by processes often not motivated by the pursuit of justice. Fixing this intolerable situation is one of my personal priorities. The measures proposed in our 12-week consultation would give greater legal protection to current or former personnel facing allegations of offences committed on duty abroad more than ten years ago.’
She added that she would consider extending the policy to Northern Ireland.
Miss Mordaunt’s pledge comes six years after Sergeant Alexander Blackman, known as ‘Marine A’ at his court martial, was jailed for life for shooting a dying Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan. Following a Daily Mail campaign, he was freed after his conviction for murder was reduced to manslaughter. It is understood the proposed new law would not have applied to his case.
Sergeant Alexander Blackman was arrested for war crimes after an incident in Afghanistan in 2011
MPs on the defence select committee said while criminality should be punished, cycles of re-investigations risk damaging the morale of the armed forces and trust in the rule of law.
And they called for the Human Rights Act to be amended to make it harder to use its provisions to take veterans to court.
Committee member and Tory MP Johnny Mercer, a former soldier, said: ‘The time for successive secretaries of state to put this issue in the ‘too difficult’ box has officially passed.
‘I and others fully expect the next prime minister to end this ridiculous charade and legislate to prevent abuses of the legal system by those who seek to rewrite history.’
‘They had our backs – we must have theirs’: Defence Secretary PENNY MORDAUNT on her proposals to provide military veterans with stronger legal safeguards
In a few months’ time we will remember the extraordinary bravery of British forces in the Battle of Arnhem seventy-five years ago. Just as we did in the recent D-Day remembrance, we treasure those very elderly veterans, who fought for our nation and the values it stands for. There is nothing that we wouldn’t do for them.
But what of the veterans of more recent conflicts whether in Afghanistan, in Iraq or elsewhere? They also never thought twice about giving their all for us. We owe them a huge debt as well.
They had our backs. We must have theirs.
That’s why one of my first actions as Defence Secretary was to announce a multi-million pound package to improve mental health support for former personnel, especially assistance delivered by the veteran community themselves.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt promises greater legal protection to military personnel facing allegations of offences committed abroad
But if we are to repay the debt we owe to these brave men and women then we must do more than provide good healthcare and commemorative events.
We must address the spectre of investigations into historic allegations. Veterans and serving personnel alike have been hounded by processes often not motivated by the pursuit of justice.
We’ve seen the same allegations investigated over and over again, without a shred of new evidence. We’ve seen unscrupulous legal firms racking up legal aid bills for fabricated accusations. And we’ve seen attempts by them to pursue cases that stand no chance of a conviction, putting those accused through hell. This is a travesty
Fixing this intolerable situation is one of my personal priorities and I know that is what our forces want too. So today I am launching proposals to provide our valiant veterans with better support and stronger legal safeguards.
The measures proposed in our 12-week consultation would give greater legal protection to current or former personnel facing allegations of offences committed on duty abroad more than 10 years ago.
Sergeant Blackman with his wife Claire in 2017. He was initially jailed for life before having his sentence reduced
This is not about our armed forces evading justice or being above the law. Especially when we rely on that same law to protect our troops. In exceptional circumstances, such as the emergence of compelling new evidence, it will remain possible to hold those who are guilty of wrongdoing to account. Sadly, there are a handful of cases where some serving personnel have committed appalling offences. Such individuals should not escape justice
However, we are talking about a handful of cases out of thousands of bogus, fabricated or poorly evidenced allegations which end up hounding huge numbers of people for just doing their job.
I also believe much more must be done to recognise the unique pressures faced by our Armed Forces, particularly junior personnel, in the cauldron of conflict. In situations of extreme danger they often have to make split-second decisions which could lead to a death and a subsequent prosecution for murder. So we are also proposing further protection which could reduce a possible conviction for murder to manslaughter in specific circumstances.
Today’s proposals apply to operations overseas, but there is also huge concern about those who served on Operation Banner in Northern Ireland. Let me be clear, our obligations to those veterans is exactly the same. So we are also working with the Northern Ireland Office’s existing legacy process, and sharing our experiences of the unintended but inexcusable consequences for veterans from schemes like the Iraqi Historic Allegations Team.
Whatever I achieve as Defence Secretary, I am determined above all else to get this process started. Our Armed Forces, past and present have already waited too long for us to protect them. For their sake and for the sake of our forces of the future too, it’s time to get this done.