After 12 years and millions of pounds spent, on Tuesday 15th June Lord Saville of Newdigate is to hand down his findings of the events of 30th January 1972 – one of the darkest days in Northern Ireland’s history: Bloody Sunday.
The Guardian revealed earlier this week that the Lord Saville will conclude that some (if not all) of the fourteen deaths were unlawful. If this is true, then the corollary may be that British soldiers will be prosecuted for manslaughter, or even murder. Were this to happen, whether the prosecutions were brought by the Public Prosecution Service or by the victims’ families, David Cameron should not intervene.
The first reason is constitutional – the independence of the judiciary. Any form of opposition to the prosecutions would be antithetical to Cameron’s “new politics”, and would render his criticism of New Labour’s authoritarianism as mere canting.
Secondly, the prosecutions would show that justice was being served. The Right will oppose any latent castigation of the armed forces for the killings, in particular those which are associated with the killings of what were suspected to be IRA militia. As Dicey enunciated, all men, British paratroopers or IRA militia, must be equal under the law.
Michael Mansfield QC argues that it was “the persistence and dignity of the families which brought [the Inquiry] about”. I suspect that the PPS will refuse to bring their own prosecutions (probably due to some quasi-judicial deference and/or fear), and therefore yet again the families’ persistence and dignity will be necessary.
Britain cannot preach to the world about justice, rule of law etc if we cannot adhere to it ourselves. In 1972 our forces were on the streets of Londonderry. Today they are on the streets of Kandahar. We cannot let impunity prevail; not then, not now, not ever.