Northern Ireland: Victims join together and lodge legal proceedings to fight back on 'heinous Troubles Act'

Troubles Act received royal assent yesterday

Victims have joined together and submitted legal challenges to Belfast High Court with an urgent hearing requested

‘We made it clear that if this Bill became an Act - we would continue to stand with victims and fight against this unacceptable denial of rights’ - Grainne Teggart

‘The clock is ticking for victims; we hope the courts will treat this with urgency’ - Martina Dillon

Several victims of the Northern Ireland conflict have joined together to challenge the UK government’s highly controversial and widely-opposed Troubles Act. Papers lodged with Belfast High Court seek an urgent hearing.

Martina Dillon, John McEvoy, and Brigid Hughes, challenge the Act's denial of inquests and lack of adequate investigations. Lynda McManus challenges the ban on civil claims. The victims are supported by Amnesty International UK and represented by Phoenix Law, Belfast.

The UK government was warned and ignored the threat of legal challenges throughout the passage of the legislation, along with calls to halt the attack on rights and put victims at the centre of legacy processes.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Deputy Director, said:

"We made it clear that if this Bill became an Act – we would continue to stand with victims and fight against this unacceptable denial of rights.

“The UK government blatantly shunned victims’ rights and pushed through a law only it wanted. This heinous Act of wrong must not stand; it is now over to the courts to right this historic wrong.

“The Troubles Act betrays victims in the cruellest way possible, adding to their years of trauma by denying them the truth and justice to which they are entitled. Despite thinly-veiled attempts by the Government to portray the law as an act of reconciliation, it plainly serves to put perpetrators above the law and beyond accountability.

“The burden of legal challenge must not be shouldered only by victims; the clock is ticking for the Irish government to commit and take an inter-state challenge to the European Court of Human Rights. We urge them to swiftly do so.”

Martina Dillon, whose husband Seamus Dillon was shot and killed in 1997 and has an inquest pending, said:

"Every day my heart aches and yearns for my husband and the trauma of his killing has been exacerbated by this law. Truth and justice are not much to ask, we shouldn't have to fight for decades to get it. I will fight this oppressive legislation in my husband's memory and in solidarity with other victims having their rights denied. The clock is ticking for victims, we hope the courts will treat this with urgency.”

Darragh Mackin, Partner in Phoenix Law, said:

“From its inception, international human rights experts have warned the Government that this Act violates rights and fail to put victims at the centre of legacy processes. Access to justice is a cornerstone of any democratic society. These victims, supported by Amnesty International, seek to swiftly end this grave attack on rights.

“The motivations of the Government are hiding in plain sight. The victims have one message for this Government; we will see you in Court.”  

John McEvoy, who was seriously injured and narrowly avoided death during a gun attack in 1992, said:

“The past is still the present, I narrowly escaped death and live with the impact of that gun attack every day. As victims we have been affected in different ways, but we all stand to lose out by this law which grossly denies us our rights, that’s why we’ve come together to challenge it. We are determined to get answers and accountability, we won't stop fighting until that happens.”

Gavin Booth, Partner in Phoenix Law, said:

“Our clients are steadfast in their commitment to achieving justice for all victims of the conflict through this legal challenge. This Act represents a clear departure from the rule of law and is a significant interference in the justice system by denying victims access to the courts. These families deserve better from the UK government.”

All victims have inquests, independent investigations, or civil claims pending and will be directly impacted by the legislation.

The Four Applicants are:

Martina Dillon’s husband, Seamus, was shot and killed outside the Glengannon Hotel in Cookstown on 27th 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 and the inquest is now paused pending a public interest immunity process.

John McEvoy was seriously injured and narrowly avoided death during a gun attack on those present in the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo, County Down on 19th 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 Two or Three of the European Convention on Human Rights “within a reasonable time”.

Brigid Hughes' husband, Anthony, was killed by State agents in Loughgall on 8th 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.

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 5th 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, he was given the last rites at the scene. He also suffered severe psychological injury. In or around February 2022 the Police Ombudsman 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 17th May 2022.

 

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