British Army instructions on opening fire (1973)

In late 1972 the British Army revised instructions for soldiers in Northern Ireland, regarding the circumstances under which they could open fire without first giving a clear warning. The following summary of these instructions appeared in The Times on March 6th 1973:

From Robert Fisk
Belfast, March 5th

“The Army in Northern Ireland has revised the Yellow Card which is issued to all soldiers in the province and constrains their instructions for opening fire. The new version, dated November 1972, carries an extra paragraph, Number 15, telling the soldier that he may open fire without warning “if there is no other way to protect yourself or those whom it is your duty to protect from the danger of being killed or seriously injured”. The new regulation appears to give a soldier discretion to make up his mind whether he has time or opportunity to shout a warning before shooting.

The card, printed on a small sheet of paper and folded so that it can be carried by a soldier on duty, clarifies a similar set of instructions, published in November 1971. In the original version, paragraph 13 said that a soldier could open fire without warning “either when hostile firing is taking place in your area and a warning is impractical, or when any delay could lead to death or serious injury to people whom it is your duty to protect or to yourself, and then only (a) against a person using a firearm against members of the security forces or people whom it is your duty to protect, or (b) against a person carrying a firearm if you have reason to think he is about to use it for offensive purposes.”

On the new card the words “or when any delay could lead to death or serious injury to people whom it is your duty to protect, or to yourself” have been deleted and paragraph 15 has been inserted instead. However the new card also includes the conditions of paragraph 15 in a section listing the circumstances in which a soldier should fire after a warning. The Yellow Card carries no statutory authority and even if a soldier obeys the rules he is still subject to the civil law.

The Provisional IRA today claimed responsibility for shooting a young soldier in the head and neck in Belfast last night. Private Gary Barlow, aged 19, of The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, was separated from his patrol in the Catholic Falls Road district by a group of about 40 women, who beat him. His companions had decided to leave the street in which they were searching two houses and did not realise that he was missing until they had returned to their military post near Albert Street.”