Northern Ireland news

Report finding: British government's legacy bill in breach of Good Friday Agreement

Daniel Holder, of Committee on the Administration of Justice
Connla Young

A PANEL of experts and academics has found that the British government's proposed legacy bill is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and international human rights law.

The Model Bill Team published its response to the controversial bill as relatives of people killed during the Troubles held protests in London, Dublin and Derry.

The team includes leading experts Professor Kieran McEvoy, Dr Anna Bryson and Professor Louise Mallinder, who are all based at the School of Law at Queen's University Belfast.

Human rights campaigners Daniel Holder, Gemma McKeown and Brian Gormally, of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, were also involved in drafting the report.

Under the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill (NITLRB) civil legal cases can no longer be brought and some inquests will not be heard.

Some of those who took part in the Troubles will also be eligible for immunity.

The publication of the report coincided with the second reading debate on the bill at Westminster yesterday.

Opponents of the planned legislation, which has been branded 'the bill of shame' by campaigners, say it will deny grieving families access to truth and justice via courts and inquests.

The panel of experts have found the bill breaches the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and is not workable.

"Given that significant commitment in both time and energy in trying to help implement agreed mechanism to finally address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland, it is with profound regret that we have concluded that the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is unworkable," they wrote.

Those behind the bill added that it is "in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and binding international law and that it will not deliver for victims and survivors, many of whom have waited for decades for truth and justice".

The report authors say the "existing mechanisms for dealing with the past have been weakened largely through government refusal to implement the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights and refusal and delays in the provision of information by state agencies".

"However, given the structure of the NITLRB, we ask whether part of the reason for introducing it is because existing mechanisms are working too well in exposing past human rights abuses."

Daniel Holder of the Committee on the Administration of Justice said he is alarmed by the British government approach.

"The bill is unworkable, unfixable and unlawful," he said.

"It is deeply alarming the British government wish to ram it through Westminster without scrutiny."

A British government spokesperson told the Irish News it was "confident the bill is consistent with the Good Friday Agreement, which itself recognised the need for difficult compromises in order to address challenging issues."

The spokesperson added: "The Government is also confident that the bill is legally robust and complies with our international legal obligations."

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