Lawyer calls on Labour to commit to repealing Government’s legacy Bill

The Irish government said Tanaiste Micheal Martin had sought legal advice over the UK Government’s legacy Bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
The Irish government said Tanaiste Micheal Martin had sought legal advice over the UK Government’s legacy Bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A lawyer who represents the families of a number of Troubles victims has called on the Labour Party to publicly state that it will repeal the Government’s controversial legacy Bill if it comes to power.

Kevin Winters has also asked the Irish government to confirm it will lodge a legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights when the proposed legislation becomes law.

A spokesperson for the Irish government said it has sought legal advice on the matter.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is set to return to the House of Lords later on Tuesday and is expected to complete its passage through Parliament this week.

The Bill includes a form of limited immunity for some perpetrators of crimes committed during the conflict and would also prevent future civil cases and inquests into Troubles offences.

All of the main political parties in Northern Ireland and victims’ groups are opposed to the Bill.

Mr Winters, from KRW Law, said both the Labour Party and the Irish government have publicly stated their concerns about the Bill and said they “now need to commit to formal legal positions”.

He said: “In November 2022 KRW Law contacted the Irish government and invited them to commit to formally confirming they would lodge an inter-state application before the European Court of Human Rights as soon as the UK legacy Bill receives royal assent and becomes law.

“To date they have singularly failed to substantively respond.

“We specifically raised the issue of families in the Republic of Ireland who are the relatives of conflict-related victims who will now be deprived of justice and truth when the Bill is enacted.

“That has made no difference in terms of securing a response.

“There is now a real opportunity for the Taoiseach to formalise legally what he has said politically.

Northern Ireland Troubles
A number of protests have taken place against the Government’s legacy Bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“The Irish government cannot let this moment pass without pressing for an inter-state application.”

Mr Winters said he had also written to the leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer asking him to confirm the legislation would be repealed.

He added: “Equally disappointing is the absence of any acknowledgement on what was a reasonable request to commit to a legal position on this matter.

“Our submission was proportionate and responsive to otherwise very strong political condemnation by Keir Starmer and Peter Kyle (former shadow Northern Ireland secretary).

“The complete absence of any meaningful response by either the Irish government or the Labour Party to these respective requests serves only to undermine the integrity of their respective opposition to the legacy Bill.

“A real opportunity is being missed here to gain maximum credibility by committing to a legal position on foot of what has been said publicly.

“Actions speak louder than words but sadly here, for families of Troubles victims, the silence is deafening.”

The Labour Party has been approached for comment.

A spokesperson for Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said the Irish government had been “clear and consistent in our opposition” to the Bill.

Micheal Martin visit to the Middle East
The Irish government said Tanaiste Micheal Martin had sought legal advice over the UK Government’s legacy Bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A statement said: “The Tanaiste (Micheal Martin) has raised the government’s concerns around this legislation with British counterparts on multiple occasions.

“Most recently, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris on Saturday.”

The spokesman added: “The government are aware of calls for consideration of the initiation of an inter-state case against the United Kingdom before the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the UK legacy Bill.

“As the Tanaiste stated at the weekend, he has sought legal advice on this matter and when that advice is received the government will consider what subsequent action will be taken.”

The Northern Ireland Office said earlier this week that a new approach was needed to deliver greater information, accountability and acknowledgement to victims and families affected by the Troubles.

A spokesperson said: “The Government’s legislation provides a framework that will enable the Independent Commission for Reconciliation & Information Recovery (ICRIR) to deliver effective legacy mechanisms, while complying with our international obligations.

“The ICRIR, established by the Bill, has a primary objective to provide information to families, victims and survivors.

“Since the Bill’s introduction, a number of substantive UK Government amendments have been adopted to the legislation that address a number of key issues raised by stakeholders.”