Northern Ireland

Pat Finucane: Senior judges reject secretary of state’s appeal over inquiry ruling

Mr Finucane (39) was shot dead by UDA gunmen

Solicitor Pat Finucane was murdered in 1989
Solicitor Pat Finucane was murdered in 1989

Senior judges have rejected an appeal by the Secretary of State that the High Court went too far by declaring the UK government’s response to demands for a public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane unlawful.

The Court of Appeal also dismissed claims by lawyers representing former secretary Chris Heaton-Harris that widow Geraldine Finucane should not have been awarded £5,000 in damages for the continued delays in responding to her ongoing campaign.

Mr Finucane (39) was shot dead by UDA gunmen in front of his wife and three children at their north Belfast home on February 12 1989.

On Thursday, the Court of Appeal said: “This was a deliberately cruel and vicious murder designed to cause maximum hurt and upset to the family and friends of Mr Finucane.”

Previous reviews had already established that members of the loyalist paramilitary gang involved in planning and carrying out the assassination were British agents.

But Mrs Finucane and her family continued to lobby for a full public inquiry to establish the scale of security force collusion.

In 2019 the UK Supreme Court declared that earlier investigations into the murder failed to meet standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since then, the lawyer’s widow has mounted a series of legal battles over the government’s response to those findings.

In November 2020 former Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced there would not be a public inquiry at this stage because he wanted other police review processes to run their course.

Lawyers representing the government sought to overturn the judge’s findings and award of damages.

Paul McLaughlin KC, for the Secretary of State, stressed to the Court of Appeal judges of Lord Justice Horner, Mr Justice McFarland and Mr Justice Rooney that a public inquiry has not been ruled out. He argued it was wrong to conclude the government believed the PSNI and PONI reviews might fulfil the Article 2 obligations.

However, Mrs Finucane’s counsel insisted the High Court had correctly identified a legal error in government thinking that the PSNI and PONI processes could potentially discharge the Article 2 duty.

Fiona Doherty KC said: “The secretary of state who took this decision, and his successor who now stands over it, are the latest in a long line of secretary of states who have taken decisions to kick the can down the road in this case and run down the clock on it.”

Giving the judgment, Lord Justice Horner said: “We have no hesitation in concluding that a second award of damages (£5,000) is appropriate given the culpable delay.

“The secretary of state chose originally to await the outcome of the (PSNI and PONI) processes which were notoriously beset with delay.

“He took no steps whatsoever to ensure either the PSNI or PONI were able to deliver their respective process with due expedition.

“In all the circumstances we see no basis to interfere with the award of £5,000 damages for the period of November 2020 to the date of Scoffield J’s decision to afford satisfaction to Geraldine Finucane.”

The appeal judges said they considered it would be “constitutionally inappropriate” to grant a mandatory order to establish a public inquiry in the present circumstances.

The parties now have three weeks to agree on an Article 2 compliant process for investigation of the relevant aspects of Mr Finucane’s death.