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Martin McGuinness slams plans to protect British troops from ‘vexatious' legal claims

Theresa May is to offer British troops protection against "vexatious" legal claims arising from future conflicts. Picture by Andrew Milligan, Press Association
Andrew Woodcock, Press Association

DEPUTY First Minister Martin McGuinness has hit out at plans to protect British troops from "vexatious" legal claims.

Under changes being outlined at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, the British Government will 'opt-out' of parts of human rights law.

The government will adopt a presumption that it will take advantage of a right to suspend aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) at times of war.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the move should end an "industry of vexatious claims" which has seen hundreds of cases being taken against veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over alleged mistreatment of combatants and prisoners.

The 1953 European Convention permits signatories to suspend their obligation to observe certain human rights responsibilities "in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation".

France took advantage of the 'opt-out' procedure, known as "derogation", in November 2015 during its response to the terror attacks in Paris, while the UK took the same step several times during the Troubles, and was backed by the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr McGuinness hit out at the move and said it "signals yet another attempt by the British government to effectively make its military immune from prosecution".

"(Defence secretary) Michael Fallon talks about the derogation applying to future conflicts but the question has to be asked whether he actually means future investigations?" the Sinn Féin MLA said.

"It's a question I will be putting directly to Theresa May because, if that is the case, it will have profound implications for the prospects of a legacy agreement in the north as it would completely undermine the proposed bodies to deal with our past such as the Historical Investigations Unit."

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