Northern Ireland

Controversial Legacy Law to face High Court challenge

The High Court in Belfast
The High Court in Belfast

Relatives of people killed during the troubles and victims will launch a major court challenge against the British government’s controversial new legacy law on Tuesday.

The contentious Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act passed into law in September.

It provides immunity in some circumstances along with ending civil cases and inquests that have not reached their findings stage by next May.

It emerged last week that of the 450 complaints currently with the Police Ombudsman just under 400 are expected not to be completed.

Under the new legislation, all Troubles investigations will transfer to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR)

Read More: Almost 400 Police Ombudsman investigations to be scrapped

Council of Europe 'strongly urges' British government to reconsider immunity provisions in Legacy Act

Many  victims and relatives are opposed to the new legacy legislation and ICRIR, and they view as designed to protect state actors from accountability.

Initially there were 20 applications challenging various provisions of the Legacy Act, but this has since been narrowed down to a handful of cases, which will be dealt over the next week.

Chris Heaton-Harris
Chris Heaton-Harris

The respondent in each case is Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris.

The lead case will include challenges by several people impacted by the Troubles including that of Martina Dillon, whose husband Seamus was killed by the LVF in December 1997.

The case of Co Down man John McEvoy, who was seriously injured during a UVF gun attack at the Thierafurth Inn, Kilcoo, in November 1992, has also been taken forward.

A second man, Peter McCormack, was also shot dead in the deadly attack.

Another challenge has been brought by Lynda McManus, whose father James McManus was injured during the UDA’s Sean Graham Bookmaker’s massacre in February 1992, which claimed the lives of five people.

Mr McManus later died from an illness linked to the attack.

A case brought by the widow of Anthony Hughes, a civilian shot dead during an SAS ambush in Loughgall, Co Armagh, in May 1987, is also expected to be referenced.

Eight IRA men were also killed during the incident.

Solicitor Gavin Booth
Solicitor Gavin Booth

Solicitors Gavin Booth and Darragh Mackin will represent Phoenix Law.

Mr Booth said the case is significant.

“This is monumental in terms of victims’ rights and families bereaved through the conflict," he said.

“This hearing represents the continuation of a long road of families having to seek justice through the courts where politicians fail them.”

The legal challenge will suggest that parts of the Legacy Law are incompatible with some sections of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is expected the challenge will also centre on elements of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, which includes the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Article Two states that “the United Kingdom shall ensure that no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity…… results from its withdrawal from the Union”.

It is expected that regardless of the outcome of this week’s legal challenge the case will ultimately be referred to the Court of Appeal in Belfast and possibly the Supreme Court in London.

The legal process has the potential to have a major impact on the British government’s approach in dealing with legacy.

The Conservatives are still reeling after the Supreme Court last week upheld a Court of Appeal ruling that their Rwanda asylum policy is unlawful.

Sir Declan Morgan (Liam McBurney/PA)
Sir Declan Morgan (Liam McBurney/PA)

Key positions at the ICRIR have already been filed, including the role of Chief Commissioner, which is held by former Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan.

Former RUC and PSNI officer, Peter Sheridan has been appointed as Commissioner for Investigations

The new £250m Troubles legacy body is expected to employ up to several hundred when it becomes fully functioning.