Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Shot lawyer left 'living legacy'

The family of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane are campaigning for a full independent public inquiry into his death
Mary Kate Quinn from Relatives for Justice at the mural on the Andersonstown Road
Mary Kate Quinn from Relatives for Justice at the mural on the Andersonstown Road
The Government will make a final decision on whether to hold a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane

A lawyer murdered by loyalist paramilitaries with the collusion of the state left a physical legacy for protecting human rights in Northern Ireland, a senior judge said.

Pat Finucane, 40, was shot at his north Belfast home in front of his wife and children by a loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) gang on February 12th, 1989.

Prime Minister David Cameron has accepted that there was collusion with the killers in the action of British state agencies ahead of the murder and apologised.

Mr Justice Seamus Treacy said: "He rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into the problem using the law as a weapon and a shield until even the rule of law ran out for Pat."

Mr Finucane, a well-known criminal defence and civil rights solicitor who represented high profile IRA me,n including hunger striker Bobby Sands, was shot 14 times in a killing which shocked wider society and the legal world.

Mr Justice Treacy told a Belfast audience his friend's many legal battles against security force mistreatment of interviewees and forcing army and police officers to account for their actions left a "living legacy".

"As I look back from the vantage point of a quarter century's experience, beyond that which was allowed to Pat, I feel that he left us a physical legacy of judgments but also an example to others of how to approach the establishment and effective protection of human rights," he said.

"Those judgments that he achieved are a living legacy. They enshrine principles of law that continue to be referred to and applied on a daily basis in this jurisdiction, throughout the UK and throughout Europe.

"In many ways all that work that Pat started all that time ago is actually physically continuing in our courts to this very day and will continue for some time to come."

Mr Finucane's family have led a campaign for a full independent public inquiry into his death, promised by Britain's former Labour Government following a damning probe by a Canadian judge which concluded that the state colluded in the murder.

But they had to settle for a review which did not cross-examine witnesses carried out by Sir Desmond de Silva QC for Mr Cameron.

It said Mr Finucane might still be alive but for the actions of British state agencies like the Royal Ulster Constabulary (predecessor of the Police Service of Northern Ireland), the British army and secret service MI5.

Sir Desmond found there was no "overarching" British state conspiracy to murder Mr Finucane.

Mr Justice Treacy said he could not comment on calls for a public inquiry because a judicial review was scheduled to come before the courts this year.

He was a colleague of Mr Finucane, an aspiring barrister at a time when the solicitor was building up his legal practice.

He recalled a general carefree attitude amongst lawyers in the 1980s, personified in his colleague who was "oblivious" to the threat.

Shortly before he died Mr Finucane won a landmark judgment in 1988 that ill treatment by interviewing police officers rendered the detention unlawful.

He also was associated with an Appeal Court judgment on the death of IRA man Gervaise McKerr compelling police officers and soldiers to account for the circumstances in which people were shot and killed during inquests into the deaths, two months before his own death.

That judgment was challenged by the UK's highest court, the House of Lords, and further appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, a case which McKerr's family won and found that the government had a responsibility to protect life.

"There is a deep and sad irony for the Finucane family," he observed.

"His example shows us how to set about the job, the job was the same in his time and these times. It is a struggle to achieve justice for those whose lives are at risk."

Amnesty International has claimed the British government's refusal to hold an independent inquiry into the murder 25 years ago was cruel and sinister.

Mr Finucane's son, John, also a lawyer, said the full truth and circumstances surrounding his father's murder had yet to be revealed.

"The past remains a divisive and caustic issue in our society today. The British government have added to this deep sense of mistrust when they continue to renege on their promise to enact a full public inquiry into his killing," he said.

"We continue to feel the deep personal loss even after 25 years, yet we remain convinced the best way to honour what my father stood for in life, and in death, is to continue our campaign for truth and justice."

Brian Gormley, director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice lobby group which co-hosted the event at Queen's University Belfast, said unless the legacy of the past was dealt with there was a risk of another future conflict.

He said Mr Finucane was a human rights defender.

"The Prime Minister has gone so far as to apologise for that collusion yet the Government will not have the inquiry that will tell us exactly what they are apologising for.

"Until that is done we cannot put the past behind us.

"We cannot feel that we are living in a rights-based society, living on the basis of law.

"Until the deaths that are unresolved in the conflict are fully investigated independently...we cannot guarantee that in another 25 years we won't be back in conflict."

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