Clegg prompts murder law review

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The Independent Online
A review of the law of murder was announced last night by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, as the Government began moves to release Pte Lee Clegg, the paratrooper serving a life sentence for killing a joy rider while on duty in Northern Ireland .

A powerful campaign to release Clegg - supported by two key Cabinet ministers and more than 60 Tory MPs - intensified at Westminster. Solicitors for Clegg said last night they had written to Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, seeking Clegg's release on licence. The Northern Ireland Office said the application for release was being considered.

Sir Patrick will review the case in consultation with the Ulster trial judge, Sir Brian Hutton, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. Downing Street officials said it would be dealt with "expeditiously''. Ministers privately said any early release would provoke IRA demands for the release of prisoners as part of the peace process.

The Home Secretary's review of the law, with the Government's law officers, was requested by the Law Lords who turned down Clegg's appeal against his conviction.

It will look into the possibility of enabling soldiers and others - such as police officers who kill in the course of their duty - to face a charge of manslaughter. The Law Lords said in their judgment the court considered the law would be much fairer ifit had been open to the trial judge to convict Clegg of a lesser offence.

"In the light of that, Parliament should consider making a change in the existing law,'' the Law Lords said. But Tory MPs campaigning for Clegg's release said last night they were opposed to this option. They fear opening soldiers to a lesser offence of manslaughter will lead to more cases being prosecuted.

The Ministry of Defence rejected the introduction of a lesser offence when it reviewed the law some years ago.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, will strongly support Clegg's release in talks with the Sir Patrick, but he is likely to reinforce the MoD's concern about the implications of a lesser offence to the Home Office. More than 60 Tory MPssigned a Commons motion calling for the rules of engagement, covered by the Yellow Card, to be given the force of law.

That would provide soldiers with a defence against prosecution where they stay within the rules. But Opposition MPs said it would be a dangerous precedent, giving soldiers too much freedom.

Mr Howard said in a Commons written answer: "I can confirm that I am reviewing the law in light of the concern expressed by the House of Lords."