Northern Ireland

Chris Heaton-Harris told he has 'moral obligation' over legacy

Solicitor Kevin Winters
Solicitor Kevin Winters

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris has been told he has a "moral obligation" to the relatives of loved ones killed during the Troubles.

In a hard hitting letter prominent solicitor Kevin Winters urged Mr Heaton-Harris "to do the right thing" after fresh plans to scrap inquests were revealed by the Northern Ireland Office.

Read More: Church leaders: Legacy bill 'will not achieve any of its purposes'

Mr Winters, of KRW Law, represents dozens of relatives involved with on-going inquests and those campaigning to have one opened.

 Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris
Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris

Under amendments to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill  inquests which have not reached a findings stage by next May will be halted.

"You have a moral, never mind legal obligation to these families," Mr Winters wrote.

"We urge you to do the right think and revise the draconian outworkings of this bill together with the latest proposed amendments issued late (on Thursday)."

Mr Winters believes that a failure to deal with people's concerns could trigger further trauma.

"Failure to do so will cause an unparalleled inter-generational trauma and hurt which in turn will manifest itself in ever increasing agitation, legal and otherwise," he said.

"If we fail to address these concerns as an evolving post-conflict society and tolerate this then our children will be next."

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice described the British government bill as "anti-victim, anti-human rights and anti-rule of law" and will have a "detrimental and  traumatic impact on tens of thousands of victims and survivors".

"The rights of victims and survivors will be permanently shut down, especially those engaged in inquests," he said.

"The bill incentivises state tactics to delay the progress of inquests.

"At its very core this bill removes all rights and access to justice for victims."

On Friday a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said: 

"The Government has consistently stated that it would continue constructive dialogue in order to alleviate concerns and improve the Bill. That is why we have published a number of significant amendments that directly address a number of key concerns raised by interested parties.

"This includes amendments on the conduct of reviews, compliance with Convention Rights, the independence of the Commission, conditional immunity, and ongoing legal processes.

"We remain absolutely committed to making legislative progress so that the ICRIR can be established, and begin delivering better outcomes for those most affected by the Troubles, as swiftly as possible.

 "The ICRIR will have all the necessary powers to conduct effective investigations, including the powers and privileges of a police constable, the power to compel evidence from witnesses, and full access to state records. This will help ensure that it can provide answers to those families who want them, and help Northern Ireland to move forward."