Northern Ireland: UK legacy proposals would ‘undermine the rule of law’

A group of human rights NGOs, academics and lawyers has warned that new legacy proposals from the UK government “would breach both international law and the domestic Human Rights Act, deliver impunity, bury truth recovery and fundamentally undermine the rule of law”.

An open letter signed by 18 organisations and individuals raises concerns that the legacy bill proposed in the recent Queen’s Speech “departs unilaterally from an existing agreement with the Irish government and local political parties”.

The government has promised legislation to “address the legacy of the past”, but has yet to announce the detail of the legislation. Media reports based on unnamed sources suggest that it could include an end to criminal prosecutions and inquests.

The open letter calls on the government to commit itself to the legacy processes in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement (SHA), which were reaffirmed in the 2020 New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement.

Its signatories include the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), the Pat Finucane Centre, Amnesty International UK, Justice for the Forgotten (JFF), Rights and Security International and the Bloody Sunday Trust.

Solicitors Peter Madden and Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane Solicitors, Niall Murphy and Kevin Winters of KRW LAW LLP, John Finucane of Finucane Toner Solicitors, Patricia Coyle and Nichola Harte of Hate Coyle Collins Solicitors and Padraig Ó Muirigh of Ó Muirigh Solicitors have also signed the letter.

It states: “The current British government committed in the [NDNA] agreement that restored the collapsed NI power-sharing institutions to legislating for the SHA ‘within 100 days’.

“Only two months later, in March 2020, the UK government unilaterally announced it was reneging on the SHA and intended to create instead an unclear ‘fast-track’ process of desk-based reviews. The express motivation for doing so related to a small number of former soldiers being charged over conflict-related killings.”

It adds: “The British government is, for example, now actively considering halting cases already before the courts and prosecution service, and curtailing legacy inquests.

“These proposals raise serious questions as to the separation of powers, as well as compliance with the structures flowing from the Good Friday Agreement, where justice powers were largely transferred from London to Belfast.

“We are concerned that the new proposals by the British government would breach both international law and the domestic Human Rights Act, deliver impunity, bury truth  recovery and fundamentally undermine the rule of law.

“We call on the British government to ensure compliance with the rule of law and their investigative obligations under the Human Rights Act and the ECHR.”

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