Northern Ireland news

Keir Starmer: 'Criminal cases linked to Troubles should have priority over inquiries'

Labour MP and former prosecutor Keir Starmer. Picture by Mal McCann

CRIMINAL cases linked to the Troubles should be prioritised over truth-seeking inquiries, according to a former head of the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales.

Keir Starmer, who is now a Labour MP, said Northern Ireland shouldn't go down the track of a time limit on prosecutions as "in many cases victims and victims' families have been living with what has pained them for many years on a daily, weekly and monthly basis".

"It's very hard to generalise, but whilst there is a prospect of criminal investigation and prosecution, it is better for that to be considered," he told the Irish News.

"That is not to say at some later date there couldn't be some wider process."

He pointed to the ongoing inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough as an example where "criminal investigations are going at the same time and the family are content to wait for the criminal investigations to be completed before taking a decision about what happens next".

Earlier this week Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan warned that long-delayed Troubles inquests will be put back further unless the assembly agrees to seek extra funding before May's election.

He has already announced his intention to set up a Legacy Inquest Unit to handle outstanding cases provided that money is available.

Sir Declan also said the legacy unit will require a new electronic data management system which could "provide a template that would support historic investigations by the HIU (Historical Investigations Unit), once it is established, and a truth recovery process"

Mr Starmer was in Belfast to address a conference on the future of the north's Probation Board.

He was fulsome in his praise for the board, which he said was doing outstanding work.

"I've never seen a report as positive as Criminal Justice Inspection report on probation in 2013," he said.

The former most senior prosecutor said all parts of the criminal justice system must grapple with the effects of austerity and believes "it is possible to do more with less".

However, Mr Starmer warned justice minister David Ford against simply shaving budgets across the board.

"It's very important to be clear where the money's going to come out of.

"One of the things that I concentrated on while director of public prosecutions was working across departmental boundaries, working together.

"... But it comes to a point if you take too much out of an organisation you risk the core services. It is always important to have a clear line of sight on that.

"... One of the concerns about England and Wales, and it is important not to reflect this in Northern Ireland, is not having a strategic vision - simply slicing all criminal justice agencies on broadly the same cut instead of looking at what you want criminal justice to look like in five or 10 years."

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