Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Solicitor Advocates, challenged a government scheme which seeks to restrict access to and use of previously available public documents relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Earlier this year lawyers brought a judicial review challenge in the High Court in Belfast against a scheme to restrict access and use of such materials. The Undertaking scheme was launched by the Department of Culture and Learning (DCAL) in early 2015. The scheme restricts next of kin and members of the public access to and use of previously public historic documents relating to Northern Ireland legacy cases.
Acting on behalf of a client the firm applied for access to Inquest papers relating to a shooting in September 1971. The application was made on behalf of a client to the Public Records Office Northern Ireland (PRONI).
PRONI, under the direction of the DCAL, directed that both the lawyers and the client sign a written Undertaking restricting the use of the Inquest papers before authorizing release. The Undertaking restricted the use of the documents even for the purposes of litigation on behalf of the client, without the permission of PRONI and DCAL. In this case, both the client and the lawyers at Harte Coyle Collins, refused to sign the Undertaking and instead lodged a challenge to the entire Undertaking scheme with the High Court in Belfast.
The significant issues raised by the High Court challenge include the restriction on access to and use of previously public historic documents and the systematic editing of previously available public materials relating to the conflict. The lawyers and their client await judgment in the case.