Northern Ireland's Policing Board has won High Court permission to challenge an assessment that the widow of an RUC officer who committed suicide qualifies for a special pension award.
The authority is seeking to judicially review the decision reached in the case of Constable David Brannigan, one of the men at the centre of an alleged shoot to kill policy within the force.
Mr Brannigan, 44, was found dead near Ballymena, Co Antrim in April 1993. He is believed to have shot himself.
Nearly a decade earlier he was found not guilty, along with two other RUC officers, of the murder of unarmed IRA man Eugene Toman near Lurgan, Co Armagh in November 1982.
An independent medical referee decided earlier this year that the officer's widow was eligible for a special award because his suicide was due to mental illness brought on by service in the police.
However, the Policing Board is contesting the interpretation that Mr Brannigan's death was a result of his duties. Barrister David Scoffield told the High Court that the issues involved could set an important precedent for many similar cases.
“A good deal of public money is at issue in the way in which these regulations are interpreted,” he said.
Under the relevant guidelines, a special pension award can be made if an officer dies in the line of duty without his or her own default.
The board is contending that the way in which Mr Brannigan took his life fails the test. Mr Scoffield, who acknowledged the tragic circumstances, said: “The question arises as to whether that is an injury received without the officer's own default in the exercise of his own duty.”
He argued that death was caused by a gunshot rather than any mental illness, with no evidence of a significant psychiatric disorder detected when he was last assessed by a doctor two months earlier.
Granting leave to apply for a judicial review, Mr Justice Weatherup recognised the tragic background and “unfortunate position” Mr Brannigan's widow found herself in.
“A long delay has occurred since the death while this issue is still being debated,” he said.
The judge added: “There is a public interest in proper interpretation of these regulations. No doubt it applies to other cases and it is appropriate to have a ruling on how the regulations apply to this type of situation.”
The case will now proceed to a full judicial review hearing early next year.