Lewis: Context of Troubles killings merits treating them differently

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The Government is justified in treating Troubles killings differently to other unsolved crimes in the UK, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

Brandon Lewis said cases linked to the conflict in the region should be treated in a different context, given peace process agreements that have already seen changes to standard criminal justice rules, such as the early release of paramilitary prisoners.

The Government plans to ban future prosecutions of military veterans and ex-paramilitaries for Troubles incidents predating April 1998.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Lewis was asked whether it is right that bereaved families in Northern Ireland will be unable to potentially benefit from advances in DNA technology such as those that linked prolific sex attacker David Fuller to the murders of two women in Tunbridge Wells in 1987.

“We’re in a different context here,” said Mr Lewis.

He noted that many of the Troubles cases are 40 to 50 years old and he said prosecutions are collapsing due to an inability to reach the criminal justice threshold of “beyond reasonable doubt”.

But Mr Lewis said past developments in the peace process are also a key consideration in the Government’s thinking.

“As a government, there is a point at which we’ve got to be very honest with people and families around what is achievable and how we can help those families who want to know what really happened get access to that information,” he told PA.

“And we’re doing that in a context that’s quite different to other areas of law, because other areas of law across the UK and other types of cases haven’t had the Good Friday Agreement, they haven’t had the Sentencing Act (that provided for early release of paramilitary prisoners), they haven’t had decommissioning (or paramilitary weapons), they haven’t had the issues around how we dealt with people who’ve been to prison and therefore were able to go back into life and have their records facilitated, go back into working life.”

Legacy plans protest
The proposals to ban future prosecutions for Troubles killings have sparked protest (PA)

The Government intends to put forward a new truth recovery model to help bereaved families gain information about the deaths of their loved ones without the prospect of a criminal justice outcome.

It has not yet published draft legislation that would give effect to the plan but Mr Lewis reiterated his intention to table a Bill in Parliament this autumn.

“It’s looking at the reality of where we are and the facts as they actually are on the ground based on what has already gone before,” he said.

“I think sometimes we forget some of those issues from the Good Friday Agreement onwards means we are in a different context here.

“We need to be honest about that and actually deal with that and look at how we can take things forward for families to get to the truth.”

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