Boris Johnson vows to end trials of soldiers accused in Troubles

PM's move to block ‘vexatious’ prosecutions condemned as ‘clickbait’

The Troubles N.Ireland
(Image credit: Malcolm Stroud/Express/Getty Images))

Boris Johnson has pledged to change the law to protect forces veterans from legal action if the Tories win the general election.

The prime minister says the Tories would legislate to ensure that peacetime laws are not applied to service personnel on military operations.

They would update the Human Rights Act so it does not apply to issues that took place before it came into force in October 2000, such as deaths during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The Times reports that veterans’ groups claim that many of the allegations are “vexatious” and that “the law is being abused to hound retired servicemen years after the events in question took place”.

However, the proposed move would be in contravention with the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires nations to carry out effective official investigation into deaths where lethal force had been used against individuals by agents of the state.

Several veterans of Northern Ireland are expected to face trial, including Soldier F, an ex-paratrooper who is charged with two murders and four attempted murders during the Bloody Sunday incident in 1972.

Johnson’s proposal is not new, the BBC points out, as “the plans to exempt British troops from human rights laws during combat were first announced in 2016 by Mr Johnson's predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May”.

Former Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, welcomed the move to put it into law. “It really is important that they do something about this vexatious process,” he said.

However, human rights lawyers have condemned the plan.

Philippe Sands says that the Good Friday agreement commits Britain to “human rights for all, not just some”. He said: “Amending the act in the way proposed appears to raise serious concerns about compatibility with the Good Friday agreement, and it cannot affect the application of the ECHR as such.”

Mark Stephens, a human rights and media law specialist, told The Times the move “sounds like clickbait for Tory voters”.

He added: “The UK has been a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights since 1958 and if we want to remain part of that convention any amendment of domestic legislation will have to be compliant with it.”

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues for £6–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.