Northern Ireland news

Former secretary of state Julian Smith urges government to look again at Troubles investigations

The protest in Derry today against the British government's legacy Bill. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin 
Ben Hatton, PA Political Staff

A Conservative former Northern Ireland secretary has urged the Government to “look again” at proposals that would prevent inquests and civil actions related to the Troubles.

Julian Smith warned of an “unfair cut-off point”, and highlighted that “consent is vital” when dealing with legacy issues.

Speaking in the Commons as MPs debated the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, Mr Smith also raised concerns over the Government’s plans for a new independent commission for information recovery.

He cited concerns from experts and interested parties that the commission’s investigations will not meet the requirements of Article 2 of the European Court of Human Rights.

He said: “If these fears are right the Bill risks leading to ongoing legal challenge and a highly unstable environment for victims. Worse, many argue, than the patchwork system of Troubles justice in place in Northern Ireland today.

“I urge the Government to look at again at the independence and investigatory powers of this body to ensure that it can guarantee victims a full and thorough investigation of their case that is legally compliant.

“The shutting down of civil cases and of inquests, and the way it is done through this Bill, is also a source of much anger and worry.

“Civil actions have provided an effective mechanism for victims to obtain discovery and reparations.

“Today many victims feel that they have been hit by a double whammy with this Bill. Their route to justice cut off, and at the same time their route to the truth restricted.”

He acknowledged the inquest system has used significant resources “often without conclusions”, but added: “I urge the Government to also look at this. There must be a fairer way of at least completing the current work programme, and avoiding such an unfair cut-off point.

“On investigations and on inquests, I therefore urge the Government to pause and to listen to the voices of our valued Irish partners in the GFA (Good Friday Agreement), to Northern Ireland parties, and to the victims and survivors.

“I hope too that the Government will reflect on how it can reframe this Bill in order to gain the trust required to help deliver a resolution.

“This Bill driven from Westminster overrides both the policy of Stormont House, but also the focus on consent present in that international agreement.

“I am deeply uncomfortable by the idea of voting for a Bill that will formalise immunity for those who have committed murder and other crimes, but I do however acknowledge that in the range of policy options that the Government is faced with, none are straightforward.”

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