Government appeals Troubles Legacy Act ruling

Image source, Liam McBurney/PA

Legend, Martina Dillon called for a new investigation into her husband’s 1997 murder

The government has begun its appeal against a ruling that found parts of its controversial Troubles Legacy Act to be illegal.

The most controversial aspect of the law was the offer of conditional immunity to suspects in exchange for information about crimes committed during the Troubles era.

Families bereaved by the unrest, who welcomed the February ruling, are still seeking to have other parts of the inheritance law removed.

Relatives gathered outside the Court of Appeal on Tuesday, where they called on Labor to repeal the law if it forms the next government.

She called for access to new investigations – which had been removed under the Legacy Act – to be restored.

“Every victim who is entitled to an investigation should get it, it should not have been taken away,” she told reporters.

“The government proposed this law for itself, not for the people affected.”

During a visit to Belfast last year, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would repeal the Legacy Act if he became prime minister.

Ms Dillion said she was “confident” a future Labor government would honor that commitment.

“I have no other choice, I have to trust them,” she said.

“Right this historic wrong”

Image source, Liam McBurney/PA

Legend, Gráinne Teggart accompanied the families to court on Tuesday

Ms Dillion’s call was echoed by Amnesty International’s deputy director in Northern Ireland, Gráinne Teggart.

“The next UK government has the opportunity to right this historic wrong,” she said.

“They must immediately, as an urgent legislative priority, repeal the Disorder Act and put in place victim-centered processes that prioritize victims, not perpetrators.”

Ms Teggart said Tuesday’s hearing was still important as families continue to challenge other aspects of the legislation.

She said this included “respect for human rights” by the body which was established by law to carry out further investigations into Troubles killings and serious injuries.

The Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) is led by the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan.

The ICRIR took on all cases relating to the Troubles from 1 May 2024, including those from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Ms Teggart said Amnesty still had “significant concerns” about ICRIR.

“We need Article 2 investigations so victims can finally get the truth and get justice for their loved ones,” she said.

Image source, Liam McBurney/PA

Legend, Activists challenging the Legacy Act demonstrate outside the court

Opening the appeal on Tuesday, government lawyer Tony McGleenan summarized a number of failed attempts to deal with the legacy of the Troubles since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

At that time, Judge Colton removed a central feature of the Legacy Act, which would have provided the perpetrators of the Troubles with conditional immunity.

He ruled that this was incompatible with the Windsor framework and the European Convention on Human Rights.

For the same reasons, he also set aside the section of the law that prohibited further civil suits.

A cross-appeal is also filed by the victims’ relatives regarding another part of the decision.

The February ruling found that the ICRIR had sufficient independence and powers to investigate cases related to the unrest.

Labor said it would not immediately scrap ICRIR because it wanted to see if it could gain the trust of victims’ families.

What is the law on legacies?

Legend, More than 3,500 people died during Northern Ireland’s 30-year conflict

The Troubles in Northern Ireland lasted 30 years and cost more than 3,500 lives and left thousands seriously injured.

Last year’s Northern Ireland Troubles (Inheritance and Reconciliation) Act was the Government’s controversial attempt to “draw a line” in this conflict.

The law became law in 2023 and under its initial terms:

  • suspects were set to receive immunity from prosecution if they cooperate with new investigations into Troubles era crimes
  • all investigations related to the unrest that had not reached the conclusion stage were closed on May 1, 2024
  • new civil cases related to the events of the period of unrest could not be brought to court after the May deadline
  • the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) was established to examine deaths and serious injuries due to the unrest

The most controversial element of the law – the offer of conditional immunity to suspects – was rejected by the High Court in February, as was the ban on new civil cases.

Image source, Liam McBurney/PA

Legend, Activists displayed photos of loved ones killed during unrest in court

There has been widespread opposition to the Legacy Act.

Several groups of victims; All political parties in Northern Ireland, the Labor Party and the Irish government criticized him from the start.

They argued that this denies justice to the bereaved and injured.

However, the British government argued that the law was consistent with human rights.