The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has indicated that soldiers who may be prosecuted for their actions in relation to Bloody Sunday will qualify for an early release scheme if they receive prison terms.

The controversial scheme created as part of the Good Friday Agreement saw 500 republican and loyalist prisoners released from prison early.

However, at the moment anyone convicted of an offence in relation to Bloody Sunday would be liable to serve their full sentence as the release scheme covered offences between 1973-1998.

Bloody Sunday of course took place on January 30, 1972.

But, legislation proposed by the Government to give effect to a range of new legacy mechanisms-set out in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement-includes a provision to extend the early release scheme to cover offences committed before 1973 which pushes the start date back to January, 1968.

If that mechanism was incorporated into law anyone convicted of a crime in relation to the events of January 30, 1972 in Derry would be covered.

Karen Bradley revealed the potential reworking of the scheme in an answer to a written question from a Tory MP who had asked whether the maximum term of two years in jail for Troubles legacy crimes would apply to the British Army and the police.

She said: “Under the early release scheme that formed part of the 1998 Belfast Agreement and was given legislative effect by the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, qualifying prisoners may apply for early release (subject to certain conditions) after they have served two years in prison,” she wrote.

“Currently anyone convicted of Troubles-related scheduled offences and serving their sentence in Northern Ireland would be eligible to apply to the scheme.

“The Sentences Act does not cover offences committed before August 1973, so the draft Bill proposes to extend the early release scheme to cover the start of the Troubles (January 1968-August 1973)

“Release is on licence, such licence being subject to revocation for non-compliance with certain conditions – as has happened in a number of cases. When a licence is revoked an individual is liable to be returned to prison to serve out their original sentence.

“The provisions set out in the draft Northern Ireland (Stormont House Agreement) Bill, on which we recently consulted, would amend the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to extend this two-year accelerated release scheme for Troubles-related offences to those serving sentences in Great Britain.

“The Sentences Act does not cover offences committed before August 1973, so the draft Bill proposes to extend the early release scheme to cover the start of the Troubles (January 1968-August 1973).

“The Government has no intention to extend early release to offences committed after the date of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998. There is no proposal in the consultation to do this and the Government is not contemplating it.

“The legacy consultation concluded in October and we expect to finish our analysis of the 17,000 plus responses shortly. It is right we take the time to consider each response fully and I will set out the next steps in this process as soon as I can.”

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