Northern Ireland

Attorney General considering five requests for legacy inquests in Troubles cases

A new Act to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles will halt all related inquests after May 1.

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General Dame Brenda King gave evidence to MLAs on Stormont’ Justice Committee
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General Dame Brenda King gave evidence to MLAs on Stormont’ Justice Committee

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General is considering five requests to hold inquests into Troubles deaths, just weeks before a legal deadline will halt any further legacy cases.

Dame Brenda King, the top legal adviser to the Stormont Executive, told MLAs on the Justice Committee that the Government’s introduction of the controversial Legacy Act had led to a large number of requests to hold inquests coming to her office in a short period of time.

The Act received royal assent last autumn despite widespread opposition from political parties and victims’ organisations in Northern Ireland as well as the Irish Government.

It offers a limited form of immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related offences for those who co-operate with a new body aimed at truth recovery.

The Act will also halt future civil cases and legacy inquests which have not reached the point of verdict by May 1.

Last month, a judge at Belfast High Court ruled that the provision for conditional immunity was not compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Government is appealing against that finding.

The Irish Government has also launched an interstate case against the UK at the European Court of Human Rights over the Act.

Dame Brenda told committee members that one of the powers of her office was to direct coroners to hold an inquest.

She said: “The inquests which attract most attention are those which are described as the legacy inquests.

“My powers will be coming to an end at the end of this month on that.”

She added: “The introduction of the Legacy Bill resulted in a large number of applications coming to the office at very short notice.

“That has taken up a considerable amount of my time and my team’s time and resource to ensure all of those requests are dealt with before the 1st of May.

“It has put quite a strain on the office, particularly as the office is very small.”

Sinn Fein committee member Deirdre Hargey asked how many legacy requests the Attorney General is currently dealing with.

Dame Brenda said: “In relation to the inquests that I have under consideration, I have only five on which I have yet to take a decision.

“That will be done within the next few days. I will have completed all of my work on those.

Deirdre Hargey
Deirdre Hargey (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I have taken the view, which is the only right one to me, that my functions continue right up until the end of April.

“What the courts can or can’t do after that is a matter for the courts, but I have been exercising my functions even though some of those applications only came in very recently.”

SDLP member Justin McNulty asked the Attorney General what advice she had given the Northern Ireland Executive on the Westminster Legacy Act.

Committee chairwoman Joanne Bunting said any legal advice provided by the Attorney General was privileged and could not be disclosed.

Dame Brenda added: “It is an Act of the UK Government and I know that the different political parties have voiced their own views on what they feel about the Act.

“Aspects of it are being litigated at the moment and I can’t comment on that but I understand that the cases are being expedited.”