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Northern Ireland: Troubles Act immunity strike-out proves premise 'not only unjust but unlawful'

The Belfast High Court has today ruled that provisions for conditional immunity from prosecution for Troubles offences in the controversial Troubles Act are not compatible with human rights legislation and are to be immediately disapplied. Welcoming this decision Amnesty said it was a confirmation that those provisions were as unlawful as they were unjust.

Martina Dillon, John McEvoy, and Lynda McManus brought the challenge against the UK government’s widely opposed Troubles Act on human rights grounds, including the Act’s denial of inquests, adequate investigations and ban on civil claims. Brigid Hughes was given leave on the final day of the hearing in November 2023. The victims were represented by Phoenix Law and supported by Amnesty International, also an intervener in the case. 

Delivering a judgment at Belfast High Court today , Mr Justice Adrian Colton ruled that the provision for conditional immunity from prosecution for Troubles offences in the Act is not compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Justice Colton also ruled that a new body – the ICRIR - set up to probe Troubles cases could potentially carry out human rights-compliant investigations. Further scrutiny from the Court will continue to be available to victims. The case is now expected to go to the Belfast Court of Appeal and then the UK Supreme Court.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland Deputy Director, speaking after the judgment, said:

“The immunity on which this entire Act is centred is not only unjust but unlawful. We are relieved to see it struck out with immediate effect.

“The Northern Ireland Secretary of State has big questions to answer on how this law can stand. We call on the UK Government to repeal the entire ill-conceived law and deliver processes which centre vicitms and their right to truth, justice and reparations.

“We will continue to support victims in their fight and will stand with them as the case moves on to the Court of Appeal.”

Commenting on the inter-state case recently lodged by the Irish Government, Grainne Teggart, said:

“We are encouraged that the Irish Government has recently lodged its papers to challenge this appalling Act at the European Court of Human Rights. That State-level intervention and support for victims, sends a critical message that human rights obligations cannot be shirked. Victims should not be left alone to shoulder the responsibility of taking on the UK Government.”

The Applicants who brought the case:

Martina Dillon whose husband, Seamus, was shot and killed outside the Glengannon Hotel in Dungannon on 27 December 1997. The circumstances of the killing suggest the role of collusion. There remain suspected perpetrators who are alive and who have recently been interviewed. The Coroner has opened an inquest into the killing of Seamus Dillon and ordered that the inquest will be an Article 2 inquest. The Coroner heard the first module of the inquest in April 2023 which is now the subject of a public interest immunity process.

John McEvoy was the subject of an attempted murder bid, and narrowly avoided death during a gun attack on those present in the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo, County Down on 19 November 1992. Another man present, Peter McCormack, was killed. On 7 October 2022 Mr Justice Humphreys delivered judgment which said that “the new material represents plausible evidence of significant state collusion at the Thierafurth Inn shootings". He found that the state “has failed to carry out” an effective investigation compliant with Article 2 or 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights “within a reasonable time”.

Lynda McManus is the daughter of James McManus (deceased) who was severely injured in a gun attack on the Sean Graham Bookmakers, Ormeau Road, Belfast on 5 February 1992. Five individuals were killed in that attack, and a number of others were injured. Her father was one of those shot during the attack and suffered such severe injury that he was given the last rites at the scene. He also suffered severe psychological injury. In or around February 2022, the Police Ombudsman’s statement in relation to the death (and other connected deaths) identified collusive behaviour by the security forces in relation to this attack and a subsequent flawed investigation into the deaths. Lynda issued a civil claim seeking damages on 17 May 2022.

Brigid Hughes’ husband, Anthony, was killed by state agents in Loughgall on 8 May 1987. In 2001, the European Court of Human Rights found that the investigations until that date into Anthony Hughes’ death had been in breach of article 2. In light of that ruling, the Advocate General for Northern Ireland directed a fresh inquest. In 2014, the Ministry of Defence issued an apology to Mrs Hughes. In 2018, Sir Paul Girvan held that ongoing systemic delays in listing this inquest meant that her article 2 rights were “not being vindicated” and that the ongoing delay “engages her rights under Articles 2 and 8”. Despite a number of preliminary hearings, the inquest has still not been listed.

Brigid Hughes was given leave on the final day of the hearing in November 2023.


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