Northern Ireland

London ‘remains committed’ to Legacy Act despite High Court ruling, while Irish government ‘not surprised’ at judge’s decision

Chris Heaton Harris defends controversial Troubles legacy legislation in wake of ruling that it contravenes human rights

Chris Heaton-Harris (left) and Steve Baker (right)  speak to the media as Northern Ireland's devolved government is restored, Two years to the day since it collapsed. PICTURE:  COLM LENAGHAN
Chris Heaton-Harris said the British government will 'carefully consider' Wednesday's High Court ruling. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris has said 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.

Mr Heaton-Harris spoke at the House of Commons after Mr Justice Adrian Colton ruled the controversial act’s immunity from prosecution for Troubles offences was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Protests take place  , As Families attended  the judgment hearing on the lawfulness of the legacy act At Belfast High Court on Wednesday. 
Mr Justice Colton declared that parts of the legislation aimed at dealing with the consequences of the conflict in Northern Ireland breach the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Belfast case was brought by Martina Dillon, John McEvoy, Lynda McManus and Brigid Hughes.
A protest over the Legacy Act was held outside the High Court in Belfast ahead of Wednesday's ruling. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN

Responding to a question from Labour MP Jeff Smith, Mr Heaton-Harris replied: “It is a very complex case. I am told that the judgment runs to over 200 pages, and I am yet to see it.

“It will take some time to consider, but we will consider Mr Justice Colton’s findings very carefully. We remain committed to implementing the Legacy Act.”

The Secretary of State went on to defend the legislation’s May deadline for Troubles-related inquests to have reached their finding stages or be unable to continue.

“The government continue to assist the Northern Ireland courts in good faith on legacy matters,” he said.

“There is no question of the government deliberately seeking to frustrate inquests. The Act allows a coroner to request a review of a death by the independent commission, led by chief commissioner Sir Declan Morgan, if the inquest has not been concluded via the coronial process by 1 May 2024.”

Tanaiste Micheal Martin said there must be ‘no roadblocks’ to providing aid to Ukraine
Tánaiste and foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin said the High Court ruling 'underpins' Dublin's own legal challenge against the Legacy Act. (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Republic’s foreign minister and Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the ruling “reflects and underpins” the legal action launched by Dublin, which was announced in December, focussing on the immunity aspect of the legislation.

He said the Irish government was “not surprised” at the High Court decision.

Meanwhile, PSNI chief constable John Boutcher said on Wednesday that victims had made it clear to him they were opposed to the Act.

PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher gave evidence to a Westminster committee about a major data breach in the force
PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher has said victims remain stringly opposed to the Legacy legislation. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I speak to victims literally every day. Whatever we do in legacy, we’ve got to do it with the support of and the co-operation of those victims’ groups and those victims and that isn’t happening,” he said, while attending a cross-border conference on tackling organised crime.

However, he said he would support the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, which is being established under the Legacy Act.

“If that’s the only show in town, we’ve got to make it work. We’re going to make sure that they get unfettered access to all the information they need,” he added.