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British Government was legally entitled to review any commitment by previous administration to hold Pat Finucane murder public inquiry, High Court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 13/05/2015

The family of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane are campaigning for a full independent public inquiry into his death
The family of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane are campaigning for a full independent public inquiry into his death

The British Government was legally entitled to review any commitment by a previous administration to hold a public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, the High Court heard today.

A judge was told issues about cost and speed had to be taken into account when a further decision on how to deal with the case was taken following a six-year passage of time.

James Eadie QC, for the government, said: "It would be something of a miracle if the public interest considerations had stayed the same, and plainly they haven't."

Mr Finucane was gunned down in front of his wife Geraldine and their three children at their north Belfast home in February 1989.

The Catholic lawyer's killing has been surrounded by claims of security force collusion with the loyalist paramilitary killers.

Mrs Finucane is seeking to judicially review Prime Minister David Cameron's decision in 2011 to rule out an inquiry into the shooting carried out by Ulster Freedom Fighters gunmen.

He instead commissioned QC Sir Desmond de Silva to review all documents relating to the case and produce a narrative of what happened.

In December 2012 Sir Desmond's report confirmed agents of the state were involved in the murder and that it should have been prevented.

However, it concluded there had been "no overarching state conspiracy".

The Finucane family rejected the findings as a sham and a whitewash.

Their barrister contended that the killing was part of a British state engagement in terrorism through loyalist groupings.

It was claimed that the assassination featured in a policy of infiltrating, manipulating and resourcing paramilitaries to carry out "extra-judicial executions".

According to Mrs Finucane's case the government unlawfully reneged on a commitment to hold a public inquiry.

Pledges to set up such a tribunal, based on the recommendation of retired Canadian judge Peter Cory, were made by a former Labour government in 2004 and reaffirmed in the following years, it was contended.

Counsel for the family alleged that the subsequent decision to reject a public inquiry was based more on costs and political fallout than the need to establish the truth.

But Mr Eadie, First Treasury Counsel, disputed their legitimate expectation arguments, stressing how a complex range of public interests had to be carefully analysed and balanced.

Pointing to a change in government by the time the case was reconsidered, he said: "Constitutionally and legally (it is) entitled to review decisions of a past administration."

By 2011 the peace process had moved on and the situation had changed politically, the court heard.

Mr Eadie emphasised how the Conservative/Liberal coalition government came into power with a note left in the Treasury declaring "hard luck, no money left".

Resources had become a priority concern, he added.

However, he insisted it was "ridiculous" to suggest the review commission was just a sham.

Pressed by Mr Justice Stephens on the "recurring theme" of getting at the truth, the barrister answered that it was about balancing competing considerations.

The government rejected one option of doing nothing, he pointed out.

Mr Eadie said: "The decision was rather to acknowledge collusion, apologise for it and appoint de Silva."

The case continues.

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