Northern Ireland

Legacy Act: British government responds to court ruling over immunity for Troubles offences

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has told the NIAC that revenue-raising was always part of a financial deal for a returning Stormont executive
Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris said yesterday the British government would consider its response to the ruling (Aaron Chown/PA)

The British government has this morning said it remains committed to implementing its controversial Legacy Act despite a High Court ruling that a provision for conditional immunity from prosecution for Troubles offences is incompatible with key human rights.

The future of the controversial legislation is likely to be dependent on an appeal hearing. It is unclear where the ruling may ultimately leave inquests, due to end on May 1, once again leaving many families frustrated and angry.

Justice Adrian Colton, in his ruling yesterday, said there was “no evidence that the granting of immunity…will in any way contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland.”

This morning, a statement from the Northern Ireland Office said: “The Government welcomes the Court’s findings that the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery is operationally independent from Government and has necessary powers to carry out reviews in accordance with the state’s obligations with Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“This is a complex judgment. We need to consider carefully the judgment in full, and our next steps.

“We remain committed to implementing the Legacy Act and delivering the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the Troubles by giving them more information about what happened to their loved ones.”

Following yesterday’s ruling, the British government has faced calls to suspend the Legacy Act.

Alliance Party leader Stephen Farry said it was no surprise that the Act, designed to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, had been “unpicked at its first legal challenge”.

Speaking to The Irish News, Professor Kieran McEvoy, of the Queen’s University School of Law, said the government “really has been hoisted by its own petard as they kept saying the amnesty element was the core, the key piece”.

Mr McAvoy said appeals will be taken all the way to the Supreme Court but they are unlikely to be heard and not determined prior to the UK General Election later this year or at latest early next.

It is possible the London government will just “put the head down” and ignore the court ruling as parliament remains sovereign, but it has rarely done so.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris yesterday told the House of Commons the British government will “very carefully” consider Wednesday’s High Court ruling that the Troubles Legacy Act breaches human rights legislation, but insisted they “remain committed” to implementing it.