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Our antiquated laws are in urgent need of an overhaul

By Michael McHugh

Published 08/10/2015

John Leckey
John Leckey

Northern Ireland's senior coroner hit out at the "antiquated" inquest system at the end of his last case.

John Leckey (67) said the law governing hearings was stuck in the 19th century and needs to be overhauled in a way similar to England and Wales.

Legal colleagues lauded him as a "beacon of light" as he stepped down having completed an inquest into the murder of Daniel McColgan, for which the Belfast postman's family had waited 13 years.

Mr Leckey said: "We are out of the mainstream of development in coronial law and practice, and I hope very much that those who have the power to do something about our antiquated law will be proactive, look at what is happening in England and Wales and concede Northern Ireland needs to follow suit."

Mr Leckey, who has been investigating deaths since 1984, also expressed frustration over delays surrounding contentious killings by members of the security forces and warned the Government it could be in breach of international law if it did not provide adequate resources to allow cases to proceed in a timely manner.

Mr Leckey admitted he was glad to have concluded the McColgan inquest but admitted he would miss the intellectual challenge of working with lawyers.

"I had to make decisions - I did not get it right all the time," he said. "Perhaps that reflects the fact that all of us are flawed human beings."

Representatives of the Bar and Law Society paid tribute to Mr Leckey's sense of humanity, humility and forensic attention to detail.

Chairman of the Bar Council Gerry McAlinden QC said: "This small and once bitterly divided society owes you a debt of gratitude because of your tireless efforts, coupled with your meticulous, forensic expertise. You demonstrated that, regardless of the background of the accused, each death would be rigorously investigated with scrupulous fairness.

"You helped repair the tear in the fabric of our strife-ridden society - you were a beacon.

"Your career as coroner has spanned some of the worst of times in the history of this jurisdiction.

"You presided over investigations into deaths resulting from acts of barbarism which seem almost unimaginable now.

"Your exposure to those horrors no doubt took its toll on you and your family but was no distraction from finding the truth surrounding the deaths of those whose lives were lost in tragic and sometimes hugely controversial circumstances."

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