Last week I used a Parliamentary ruse to raise an issue that has been troubling me for a long time. “Lawfare” is the nickname given to actions by lawyers who seek to bring members of the armed forces to court for actions they took, often decades ago, in the thick of battle. I raised the issue as what is called a 10 Minute Rule Bill. You get 10 minutes to put a case to the House and if it is agreed you get a slot to raise it as a Private Member’s Bill. My Bill would ensure that no case against any current or former member of the armed forces for what they did in combat could be brought if 10 years had expired since the alleged incident.
In recent years we have seen an industry emerge where lawyers, too often dodgy ones, trawl former war zones finding tenuous cases for which they are paid large amounts of public money to progress through our judicial system. Of the around 3,000 cases against current or former members of the armed forces submitted to the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, none of them made it through to a prosecution. Not one. The Government rightly closed down IHAT but not before great distress and misery was caused to innocent men and women. The worst of the lawyers indulging in this politically motivated scam, someone called Phil Shiner, was struck off but not until he had soaked up loads of taxpayers’ money on his dubious claims.
The other reason for my Bill is Northern Ireland. Later this month a 78-year-old man called Dennis Hutchings will be in a Belfast court answering charges that include attempted murder. He has a heart condition and only 11% kidney function. The incident for which he is accused happened in 1974. Twice he has been told that there is no case to answer. Now Northern Ireland judicial officers with allegedly pro-nationalist leanings, have decided to pursue Mr Hutchings it seems almost to the grave. Former terrorists have been let off for crimes they committed and so-called “on-the-runs” have been given a get-out-of-jail card by past Governments. So those who went out to kill and maim get let off and those whose job it was to save lives and protect communities face prison for decisions they took in the heat of action many decades ago. Most rational people agree that this can’t be right.
My Bill passed its first stage last week. I want it to become law before more old men are pursued to the end of their days. They should feel revered for the difficult job they did, not persecuted by a biased and politically motivated judicial witch hunt.