Northern Ireland

Response to Finucane inquiry campaign is 'unlawful and irrational'

Geraldine Finucane, wife of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane
Geraldine Finucane, wife of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane Geraldine Finucane, wife of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane

Witnesses and evidence will be lost by the UK Government’s “litany of delays” in responding to demands for a public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Counsel for the victim’s widow, Geraldine, claimed the approach to her ongoing campaign is unlawful and irrational.

Mr Finucane, 39, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitary gunmen in front of his wife and three children at their north Belfast home in February 1989.

Previous reviews have already established that members of the UDA team involved in planning and carrying out the assassination were British agents.

However, the solicitor’s family continue to lobby for a full public inquiry to establish the scale of security force collusion surrounding his murder.

In 2019, the UK Supreme Court declared that earlier investigations failed to meet standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Since then, Mrs Finucane has mounted a series of legal battles over the Government’s response to those findings. 

In November 2020 former Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced there would not be a public inquiry at this stage because he wanted other police review processes to run their course.

He was then ordered to pay £7,500 damages to Mrs Finucane for the excessive delay in reaching that position.

A further challenge was taken against the legality of his decision to await the outcome of reviews by the PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).

In December 2022 High Court judge Mr Justice Scoffield ruled the Government remains in breach of Article 2 through the hold-up in completing a probe which meets those legal requirements. 

He quashed the decision not to establish a public inquiry at this stage, identifying an unlawful failure to reconsider its position following the conclusion of a police review process.

Earlier this year he ordered a further £5,000 compensation to be paid to Mrs Finucane for the “culpable delay” in current Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris reaching a fresh conclusion on whether to establish a public inquiry. 

Mr Heaton-Harris is appealing the High Court findings and award of damages.

Lawyers representing the Government stressed that a public inquiry has not been ruled out and claimed Mr Justice Scoffield went too far.

But Fiona Doherty KC, for Mrs Finucane, argued that its response had exacerbated the hold-up.

“We are 34 years on from the murder,” she told the Court of Appeal.

“The Secretary of State had a choice here… he had options and he chose procedures that would take years to complete.”

Ms Doherty added: “Against that litany of delays, where time ticks on, evidence is being lost and witnesses are being lost, it couldn’t be anything other than irrational.”

Judgment was reserved in the appeal.