Judge quashes PSNI's 'seriously flawed' decision to end Hooded Men probe
The overturning of a police decision to end preliminary enquiries into the suspected Government-sanctioned torture of 14 men during internment has been welcomed.
High Court judge Mr Justice Maguire held that research undertaken to establish any criminality around their deep interrogation in 1971 had been too narrow and lacked focus, describing the situation as "a sorry state of affairs".
But he rejected related claims that the State was in breach of a legal obligation to carry out a full and independent investigation into the so-called Hooded Men's treatment - because the events occurred decades before human rights legislation came into force.
The verdict leaves the PSNI facing a fresh process on how to handle allegations of ministerial involvement which emerged in a 2014 television documentary.
The judge said: "The decision, in effect, to end the inquiry at the point when it was made was seriously flawed and was inconsistent with the broad approach which the Chief Constable had adopted."
Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International's Northern Ireland branch said the ruling was "a victory for common sense and for justice".
Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon said the PSNI decision to prematurely end the investigation had been "unacceptable and completely wrong".
She added: "We agree with the High Court in their decision that a new decision process must begin. This must happen immediately, followed by a fresh police investigation."
Surviving members of the Hooded Men issued proceedings against the Chief Constable, Secretary of State and the Department of Justice.
They argued the authorities have failed to comply with duties under the European Convention on Human Rights to properly probe and order a full inquiry into what happened to them while interned at British Army facilities in Ballykelly, Co Londonderry.
Amid claims that the men's treatment was sanctioned by the State, the court heard former Prime Minister Edward Heath was involved in the decision-making process.
Stormont's Prime Minister at the time, Brian Faulkner, was also personally briefed on the deployment of the techniques, according to their case.
Five techniques were used against the men while they were held without trial: being hooded, made to stand spread-eagled in a stress position against a wall and beaten if they fell; forced to listen to constant loud static noise; and deprived of sleep, food and water.
RUC Special Branch officers were said to have been taught the methods by soldiers but sought assurances of immunity from prosecution before carrying them out.
Counsel for the Government and Chief Constable countered that the 1998 Human Rights Act, which came into force in 2000, has no retrospective powers.
It was stressed that in 1978 the European Court of Human Rights held the techniques constituted inhuman and degrading treatment - but fell short of torture.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Maguire said: "It seems likely to the court that if the events here at issue were to be replicated today the outcome would probably be that the European Court of Human Rights would accept the description of torture in respect of these events as accurate."
However, he found that in domestic law no obligation can be held to operate under the Human Rights Act as the events long pre-date its existence.