Northern Ireland

Criticism as former Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan appointed to head legacy body before controversial changes even become law

Former Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan
Former Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan

A victims' group has hit out after former Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan was appointed on Thursday to head a controversial new legacy body before legislation even passes into law.

Sir Declan was announced as the Chief Commissioner of the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) on Thursday.

Read More: Head of new legacy post in Northern Ireland must be a British citizen

It came as contentious legacy legislation, which will allow ICRIR to be established, had its final committee sitting.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is currently making its way through Westminster and is expected to become law in the summer.

Under the proposed legislation, which has been dubbed the ‘Bill of Shame' by some opponents, only inquests which have reached substantive hearing stage a year after the bill will be allowed while civil cases have been stopped.

Immunity from prosecution will also be offered in some circumstances.

Earlier this week Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said a number of "game-changing" amendments will be made to the planned legislation.

Confirming the appointment in a written ministerial statement to parliament he said a hallmark of Mr Morgan’s “distinguished career has been his commitment to addressing Northern Ireland’s past”.

“I am confident that he will bring the highest level of experience, expertise and integrity to this post which will help build public confidence in the ICRIR," he added

Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice said the appointment was “hugely disappointing”.

“The judicial appointment before the legislation is even passed or finalised tells us that chat about significant amendments is a distraction and nonsense”.

Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice Daniel Holder said “it's at best unclear how appointments can be made before a bill is law."

“There seems to be a real rush in this,” he said.

“The current bill would start to shut down existing legacy investigations and even compensation claims within two months of getting through Westminster, which it's planned to do by the summer.”

Earlier this week the British government was accused "backsliding" on the Good Friday Agreement after it emerged that the Commissioner for Investigations at the planned ICRIR must be a British citizen.

Concerns were also raised by Mr Holder that there is a “rush to recruit before the bill is even got through Westminster”.