Northern Ireland

Peer warns state bodies are ‘running down the clock’ ahead of Legacy Act inquest deadline

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain said families face ‘disgraceful’ treatment under new law

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Lord Hain spoke out against the Legacy Act at Westminster on Tuesday. PICTURE: PA

The alleged attempts by British state bodies to “run down the clock” on Troubles-related inquests ahead of the controversial Legacy Act becoming law have been criticised.

The claims were made by Labour peer and former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain this week, as he referred to the May 1 deadline for inquests to reach a point of verdict or be discontinued under new legislation, which he described as “shameful”.

In a question to Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine, Lord Hain asked if he was “not extremely perturbed - indeed, embarrassed - by the fact that state bodies appear to be openly running down the clock to 1 May, 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?”.

Baroness Nuala O'Loan
Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan has also criticised the Legacy Act.

Former Police Ombudsman, Baroness Nuala O’Loan, agreed with Lord Hain, and that the legislation was causing “huge distress to victims”.

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane has said he agrees with the peers’ assessment.

Sinn Fein spokesman John Finucane MP
Sinn Féin MP John Finucane. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

“Sinn Féin have said for some time that a consequence of the British government’s shameful Legacy Act is to incentivise state bodies to ‘run down the clock’, and to avoid their legal duties in our courts,” the North Belfast MP said on Wednesday.

“Heartbroken families have been fighting for years, determined to get truth and justice for their loved ones.”

He added that the Irish government’s interstate case was a welcome step in challenging the Legacy Act.

However, a spokesperson for the British government spokesperson said it continues to assist courts in the north “in good faith in relation to legacy matters”.

They said the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, the body set up under the Legacy Act that the government claims will deliver truth recovery and reconciliation to Troubles victims, “will also be able to make findings - made public via a report - in a manner similar to an inquest”.

“The Act contains provisions allowing a coroner to request a review of a death by the Independent Commission, led by Sir Declan Morgan as Chief Commissioner, if the inquest has not been concluded via the coronial process by 1 May 2024,” the spokesperson said.

“It is now working at pace to become fully operational, and in November 2023 published a paper regarding ideas for how it could approach investigations linked to advanced stage inquests.

“The government encourages stakeholders such as Lord Hain to engage directly with the Independent Commission to better understand its plans for implementation.”