THE Scottish Government is against a UK-wide bill that would provide an effective amnesty for people who committed crimes during the Troubles.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill would provide immunity from prosecution if suspects agree to cooperate with a new body, known as the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICFRIR).
Speaking before the Criminal Justice Committee at the Scottish Parliament, Justice Secretary Keith Brown said the Scottish Government was advising MSPs not to back a legislative consent motion on the bill before Holyrood.
Brown said that the bill would infringe on the human rights of victims of the Troubles and would also impact the role of the Lord Advocate as the independent head of prosecutions in Scotland.
“We believe that the bill is incompatible with the Scottish Government’s view that those who suffered during the Troubles had the opportunity to obtain justice and that those who committed offences during that time are appropriately held to account and/or punished,” he said.
“The bill would effectively be an amnesty for those who have committed serious offences such as murder and crimes involving abuse and torture, and we’re not the only ones who hold this view.”
Brown pointed to the opinions of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, both of whom voiced concerns about the legislation.
Under questioning from MSPs, Brown said he did not think his opposition to the bill should be seen as “political”, adding: “If someone has been subject to torture or abuse or knows someone who’s been murdered, I think it’s very important that those things can receive due process and this would be inserting a new body into this process that we think undermines the independence of the Lord Advocate and this Parliament’s role in relation to human rights.”
On the impact of the bill on the role of the Lord Advocate, Brown said: “The basis on which the Lord Advocate’s role is constructed is undermined by this.
“If she is suddenly no longer able to say, ‘I think there’s a crime here which is in the interest (of the people of Scotland) to be prosecuted’, then somebody else is able to say no – it’s that fundamental change to the position of our Lord Advocate which we think is detrimental.”
He added: “This would be the first time, I think, you would see that power, that independence being fettered by another body, and that’s our objection.”
Brown did say that the principles of the legislation – namely to determine what took place during the conflict – were “laudable” and that some of the issues could be worked out, but added: “I think the objections that we have, undermine those, perhaps, laudable purposes.”
He also took aim at the UK Government’s lack of engagement before the bill was introduced, with the Scottish Government being made aware of the substantial parts of the legislation on the day it was introduced.