UK: Amnesty launches appeal calling on judges to boycott sham inquiries

An inquiry under the 2005 Act, railroaded through Parliament on the last possible day before it was dissolved for the election, would lack independence and be largely controlled by the executive, says Amnesty International.

The final report of any inquiry under the Act would be published at the executive’s discretion and crucial evidence could be omitted at the executive’s discretion, “in the public interest.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

"Any judge presiding over an inquiry into the Finucane murder under the Inquiries Act 2005 would be presiding over a sham. We urge judges not to sit on any such inquiry.

"By rushing through this Act, the government has placed itself beyond public scrutiny and dealt a massive blow to any hopes of transparency in government.

"Under the Inquiries Act 2005, there will be no more independent, public inquiries like those into the Ladbroke Grove train crash, the murder of Stephen Lawrence or the tragedy at Hillsborough.

"The government will be able to control what the public finds out, and what it doesn’t."

Patrick Finucane, an outspoken human rights lawyer, was shot dead in his home in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 12 February 1989 by Loyalist paramilitaries.

In the aftermath of his killing, prima facie evidence of criminal conduct by police and military intelligence agents acting in collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries in his murder emerged.

In addition, allegations have emerged of a subsequent cover-up by different government agencies and authorities.

In April 2004, an independent report, commissioned by the UK and Irish governments concluded that "only a public inquiry will suffice" in Patrick Finucane’s case.

Geraldine Finucane, Patrick Finucane’s widow, has called on all senior judges in England, Wales and Scotland not to serve on an inquiry into her husband’s case held under the new legislation.

Amnesty International calls on the UK authorities to establish a truly independent judicial inquiry into collusion by state agents with Loyalist paramilitaries in Patrick Finucane’s murder; into reports that his killing was the result of state policy; and into allegations that different government authorities played a part in the subsequent cover-up of collusion in his murder.

The appeal asks supporters to write to Lord Bingham, Senior Law Lord; Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice; and Lord Cullen, Lord President of the Supreme Court in Scotland, urging that neither they nor other judges in their jurisdiction sit on an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Appeals will also be sent to the heads of the judiciary in countries with a common law system who might also be approached to sit on such an inquiry, such as Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India.

Under the Inquiries Act 2005:

  • the inquiry and its terms of reference would be decided by the executive; no independent parliamentary scrutiny of these decisions would be allowed
  • the chair of the inquiry would be appointed by the executive and the executive would have the discretion to dismiss any member of the inquiry
  • the decision on whether the inquiry, or any individual hearings, would be held in public or private would be taken by the executive
  • the decision to issue restrictive notices to block disclosure of evidence would be taken by the executive

Lord Saville of Newdigate, the chair of the Bloody Sunday Tribunal of Inquiry, pointed out that the Inquiries Act 2005 "makes a very serious inroad into the independence of any inquiry; and is likely to damage or destroy public confidence in the inquiry and its findings".

Lord Saville also said:

"As a Judge, I must tell you that I would not be prepared to be appointed as a member of an inquiry that was subject to a provision of this kind."

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