I am a firm believer that our Armed Forces have to have the highest standards in how they conduct themselves in conflict. Having commanded men on operations I have seen at first-hand how they do just that. Indeed I would go further, I have seen young men remain calm amid provocation that would drive most people to uncontrolled violence. That is why having such professional armed forces is something of which we can all be proud.
Unfortunately an unpleasant industry has emerged in recent years where unscrupulous and politically motivated lawyers have used taxpayers' money to pursue veterans through a judicial process often long after they have left the military and decades after the incidents that are being investigated took place. The good news is that one of the worst of these lawyers, Phil Shiner, has been struck off and disgraced as a lawyer. He indulged in a systematic pursuit of members of the armed forces, past and present, lodging a staggering 2,470 criminal complaints. Most of these were done through a Government organisation called the Iraq Historic Abuse Team (Ihat). This organisation channelled funds through Mr Shiner’s law firm, even after his rule breaking had been reported to the solicitors' watchdog.
At the same time there is a furious row in Parliament at the behaviour of another organisation. The Legacy Investigations Branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland are looking into killings that took place during the troubles in Northern Ireland. Whilst only 302 of the 3200 deaths in the troubles were attributed to the security forces there seems to be a priority given to these cases over the vast majority that were at the hands of terrorists. When grandfathers are taken from their homes just before Christmas and taken to Northern Ireland for hours of questioning under caution, we are justified in asking what is going on.
Both of these situations have a profound effect on the sense of fairness and decency that we see as hallmarks of our society. It is time we introduced a statute of limitations that means that both sides can move on from the past. In Ihat’s case I firmly believe that the organisation should be closed down and legitimate cases of military wrong doing should be passed on to the Royal Military Police. As part of their remit they should be required to apply common sense through an understanding of the stress and strain of combat. We owe it to the veterans of the past and those in our armed services now and in the future, to get this right.