The UK Government is proposing an amnesty and closing down legacy investigations because it is “running scared” of the decisions of an independent Northern Ireland judiciary, a leading solicitor has said.
Kevin Winters said he believed that there were “very strong grounds to challenge legally what Downing Street is proposing politically”.
He said: “We are not yet in a totalitarian state where citizens are denied rights to access the courts.
“I’ve every confidence the independence of the judiciary will prevail and protect those inalienable rights.”
Mr Winters said the timing of “this draconian threat” in the government’s plans wasn’t coincidental: “It comes on the back of increased judicial oversight and engagement on conflict-related litigation before the courts.
“The numbers of legacy-themed criminal cases involving British military veterans is minimal compared to the volume of High Court civil actions alleging various statutory breaches and wrongs including conspiracy to murder, negligence and collusion.
“We are just at the point of finally having a number of inquests listed where there are allegations of state collusion.
“Incredibly, the only such inquest to have come to hearing so far remains the 1976 Kingsmills Massacre where we have seen the state fight hard to prevent any suggestion of IRA collusion emerging.
“We had to resort to the High Court by way of judicial review to try and get identities of suspects who are long since deceased.”
Mr Winters said London did not want another finding similar to the Ballymurphy inquest. “It does not want its Prime Minister to be dragged to Parliament again to make an apology as an empty and hollow gesture.
“It is afraid of the independence of the courts in this jurisdiction because it cannot influence or control the out-workings of the judgments and decisions. The out-workings of hundreds of pending civil actions and inquests will cost it financially and reputationally — it is now trying to block that.”