The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has strongly criticised the UK government’s new legacy bill (as introduced into the UK Parliament today) and has called for it to be scrapped in favour of the prior proposals in the Stormont House Agreement.
CAJ is highly critical of a number of aspects of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, including the scope of the new legacy body, which will carry out ‘reviews’ rather than investigations. CAJ also fears that, under current proposals, the Secretary of State will in practice decide who gets immunity from prosecution.
As such, CAJ believes the proposals within the Bill fail to honour the UK’s obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to carry out proper investigations into deaths and serious injuries that occurred during the NI conflict.
Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ, said: “The first problem with this Bill comes right at the beginning in the Secretary of State’s declaration that it is compatible with European Convention rights. It is not – the Bill drives a coach and horses through the obligation for a proper, independent, investigation into suspicious deaths, especially where the state may be involved. This is the law of the land, enshrined in the Human Rights Act, itself a product of the Good Friday Agreement.
“The Bill only speaks of ‘reviews’ – not investigations. The new body will have limited powers and will only effectively get information that the various agencies want it to have. Civil actions and inquests that have not reached an ‘advanced stage’ will be discontinued, thus depriving victims of the information that these routes can bring.
“The much-criticised blanket amnesty has been dropped but only to be replaced by a theoretically conditional amnesty, but one which is still deliberately skewed to favour state agents. The legally qualified immunity requests panel will nominally take decisions on who gets amnesty, but it ‘must take into account’ guidance on suitability from the Secretary of State. We can be certain that state agents will be safe from prosecution.
“The Stormont House Agreement envisaged an independent mechanism to oversee work on oral history and the broader themes and patterns of the conflict. Under this legislation, the Secretary of State himself would direct such work. He would, for example, oversee thematic work on issues such as collusion, shoot to kill or torture. This beggars belief.
“The government should scrap this Bill and return to the already agreed structure of the Stormont House Agreement.”
Link to their website and response here.