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Law chief: Let's go now with delayed inquests

By Noel McAdam

Published 04/11/2015

Sir Declan Morgan
Sir Declan Morgan

Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice has suggested going ahead with Troubles-linked inquests dogged by delays for decades with whatever evidence is available.

Sir Declan Morgan made the suggestion as he met the Victims Forum for the first time and admitted his proposal may be "unpalatable".

But he told the gathering that while not ideal, his suggestion was based on the fact that 22 of the 54 cases were over 40 years old.

The current caseload relates to a total of 86 deaths dating back to the early 1970s, and figure could potentially rise over the next few years.

They include some of most notorious killings of the Troubles, among them the UVF murder of 76-year-old Roseanne Mallon and the IRA's Kingsmills massacre.

Sir Declan, who is now also president of the Coroners' Courts, is to appoint Lord Justice Weir to review all the so-called legacy cases, with preliminary hearings being scheduled for January.

But he cautioned that it could be many years before most cases could be dealt with and it would be wrong of him to allow the families or the wider public to be given unrealistic expectations.

The Lord Chief Justice said if cases proceeded under the inquest system there would have to be decisions on how to manage those being significantly delayed due to outstanding evidence, disclosure and redaction issues, or the tracking down of witnesses.

"One practical option - though I fully expect that some may find this unpalatable - would be to proceed in such cases on the available evidence.

"This would by no means be ideal, but it reflects the fact that 22 of the 54 cases are now over 40 years old.

"The stark reality is that, with the passage of time, some witnesses might never be located or they may have died by the time a case comes to be heard.

"It would not be in the interests of justice, I would have thought, to allow such cases to wither on the vine."

Sir Declan told the forum that even if there was a political breakthrough at Stormont, with additional monies being released, the Historical Inquiries Unit would not commence its operations until October next year at the earliest.

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson, who set up the meeting, said she believed that Sir Declan was genuinely keen to engage with victims and their families, but was also concerned to manage people's expectations.

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