Northern Ireland news

Judges should decide on disputes over 'sensitive' information in HIU reports

Proposals have been published to tackle one of the main sticking points arising out of legacy bodies outlined in the Stormont House Agreement
John Monaghan

JUDGES should decide on disputes over the inclusion of 'sensitive' state information in reports by the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), it has been suggested.

Proposals have been published to tackle one of the main sticking points arising out of legacy bodies outlined in the Stormont House Agreement of 2014 - how to resolve cases where the British government refuses to disclose information on Troubles murders on the basis of national security.

The report, launched yesterday at Queen's University Belfast, was compiled by academics from Queen's and Ulster University alongside various non-governmental organisations.

They presented their suggestions to the British and Irish governments last year but said they felt now was the time to put them "into the public domain".

Professor Kieran McEvoy, from Queen's School of Law, who led the team, outlined a process for dealing with legacy issues through the HIU, a new independent body to take forward criminal investigations.

The British government would be informed of any "sensitive" details due to appear in its reports, and allowed a set number of weeks to challenge their inclusion, with families notified if any redactions are proposed.

In the event of a further dispute, one or more judges would make a ruling.

Any redactions would apply to the body of the report and not the conclusions, while a statutory appeal mechanism would also be put in place.

In addition, lawyers would be appointed who would update families on the "gist" of the investigation.

Daniel Holder, from the Committee on the Administration of Justice, claimed national security had become a "humpty-dumpty" term which can "mean anything people want it to mean".

He argued that the British government's objection to the release of archive files on security grounds was "unprecedented" compared to legacy processes in other countries.

Mr Holder said the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) between the British and Irish governments and executive parties had included a commitment by the British to "full disclosure to the HIU".

While families have a "right to truth and a right to an investigation" under the European Convention on Human Rights, the same article does not mention "national security" as a legitimate objection, he said.

Professor McEvoy said the term national security was not defined in UK legislation and "keeping people safe and secure", which appeared in the Stormont House deal, could be used instead.

"The term national security doesn't appear in the Stormont House Agreement. That is not an accident. Obviously it was negotiated out," he said.

Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan said he supported the proposals and would "recommend them to the political parties and the government".

Robert McClenaghan, whose grandfather was killed in the McGurk's Bar bombing in 1971, said he would prefer a panel of three judges - one Irish, one British and one international.

However, Prof McEvoy said that the group had not made any conclusions about whether the judge or judges "should be from this jurisdiction".

He said: "That is for the politicians to decide.

"Victims have waited long enough. The time is right for a good faith implementation of past-facing elements of the SHA."

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