Northern Ireland

Justice minister Naomi Long urged to intervene over legacy inquest delays

Concerns raised over failure of state bodies to hand over vital information

Justice minister Naomi Long has been urged to intervene after former Secretary of State Peter Hain voiced concerns that legacy inquests are being deliberately held up by state agencies.

Mr Hain made the remarks after a debate in the House of Lords last week.

Under the British government’s controversial Legacy Act all inquests that have not reached their findings stage by May 1 will end.

Dozens of inquests are currently waiting to be completed before the May cut-off date and it is feared that some will not be completed in time.

Multiple concerns have been raised over failures to hand over vital material to ongoing inquests.

During a House of Lords debate last week about changes to the Windsor Framework, Mr Hain asked Northern Ireland Office minister Jonathan Caine if he was “not extremely perturbed, indeed embarrassed, by the fact that state bodies appear to be openly running down the clock to May 1 when the due process that we set such store by in the United Kingdom will no longer apply in Northern Ireland, thanks to the shameful Legacy Act?”

Earlier this week justice minister Naomi Long said she had written to Mr Hain about his remarks.

Lawyers for people impacted by the ongoing delays have urged Ms Long to also make contact with them.

Solicitor Gavin Booth
Solicitor Gavin Booth Solicitor Gavin Booth

Solicitor Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, who represents relatives of the dead in several inquests, said his clients are willing to meet Ms Long.

“Our door is open, our families are willing to engage with the minister of justice, should she make contact,” he said.

“But she should also be pressing all state bodies, including the MoD and PSNI to properly engage in this process and not to allow this inquest to slip past the May deadline.”

Ms Long did not respond directly when asked to confirm if she has contacted any other individuals or organisations in relation to legacy concerns.

The minister said she has always made clear her “concerns” about the Legacy Act, which she added has “created huge pressures and uncertainty across the justice system and has caused distress and anxiety for many victims and survivors”.

She added that she has been “meeting with and receiving updates from the judiciary and justice partners in relation to the impact on the justice system”.

“There will undoubtedly be issues as we approach the deadline in terms of whether it is fair on families to commence a process which may not be able to complete,” she said.

“I am, however, deeply concerned by suggestions that legacy inquests are being deliberately delayed by state bodies and I have asked for further information to allow me to pursue the matter further.”