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Northern Ireland Attorney General to be involved in landmark Brexit challenge

By Alan Erwin

Published 22/09/2016

Attorney General John Larkin.
Attorney General John Larkin.

Northern Ireland's top law officer will be involved in landmark legal bids to stop the UK's planned departure from the European Union, it was confirmed.

Lawyers mounting joint challenges to Brexit said they have agreed Attorney General John Larkin QC should feature in "the most important constitutional legal case in recent history".

A notice of devolution has been served as part of formal moves to ensure his participation.

Following a preliminary hearing at the High Court in Belfast on Thursday a judge is to rule on the scope of the issues to be examined when the case gets underway next month.

Separate cases have been brought by the father of a loyalist paramilitary murder victim and a cross-party group of MLAs.

Raymond McCord and politicians including  Alliance MLA David Ford, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Sinn Fein Assemblyman John O'Dowd and Steven Agnew of the Green Party are seeking to judicially review the British Government's move towards leaving the EU.

They claim it would be unlawful to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal process for confirming the UK's exit, without first securing Parliamentary authorisation.

Similar legal challenges are already underway in London.

All implications specific to Nothern Ireland - including claims that leaving the EU will inflict damage on the peace process - are to be examined in a two-day hearing.

Mr Justice Maguire was told that the High Court in Belfast is best qualified to deal with those issues.

Mr McCord's legal team contend Brexit will undermine the UK's domestic and international treaty obligations under the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

The campaigner, whose son Raymond McCord Jr was murdered by the UVF in north Belfast in 1997, is taking the case amid concerns that European peace money which goes towards victims of the Troubles may be discontinued.

The MLAs, backed by representatives of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland, are also contesting the legality of the process.

They have identified a series of obligations that must be satisfied before Article 50 can be invoked, including requirements for Parliamentary legislation and the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Outside court on Thursday, Mr McCord welcomed the Attorney General's involvement.

He also called on First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to attend the hearing participate in "representing the majority view of the people of Northern, that being to remain part of the European Union".

Mr McCord added: "We are a devolved nation and our views should count for something.

"I believe that to date victims have been let down by the Executive and more needs to be in relation to justice issues."

His solicitor, Ciaran O'Hare of McIvor Farrell, confirmed that both the victims' campaigner and the MLAs agreed that Mr Larkin should feature in the case.

"What's known as a Notice of Devolution has been served on the Attorney General and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister by both applicants," Mr O'Hare said.

"We now have only some two weeks to prepare for what will be the most important constitutional legal case to come before Belfast High Court in recent history."

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