Lawyer: Truth bid is victims' right
Victims of the Northern Ireland conflict threatened by a police proposal to cut resources for investigating historic cases have a right to obtain truth and justice, a lawyer warned.
Funds dedicated to investigating the past could be reduced as a consequence of implementing potential budget cuts of £88 million, Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable George Hamilton has said.
He said his priority when deciding where to reduce spending had to be keeping the public safe in the present.
Inquests into more than 70 killings during the Troubles have still to be concluded, owing to delays that are causing anger among relatives of the dead and raising concerns about the ability of coroners' courts to cope with the conflict's legacy.
As well as everyday policing functions, the PSNI dedicates significant resources to investigating historic Troubles killings using a team of independent detectives and to meeting its obligations to provide information to other legacy investigations, such as those undertaken by the at times overstretched coroner's service.
The work of the Historical Enquiries Team, established to review more than 3,000 Troubles killings, has been held up following a critical report.
Efforts brokered by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass to reach a compromise between members of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government on dealing with the past ended without agreement at the end of last year.
Solicitor Niall Murphy represents many relatives and victims.
He said: "In the absence of bringing forth the proposed agreement of the (Haass-chaired) Panel of Parties, which we broadly endorse, and with serious flaws in the institutions tasked with dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, most problematically regarding the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team (HET), many relatives and victims look to legal redress to obtain accountability, truth and justice. This is their right."
Mr Murphy said the chief constable was aware of duties enshrined in law which he holds to police the past.
"He should also be aware that the British government, of which he is an officer, owes international obligations regarding investigating and prosecuting conflict-related crimes under the European Convention on Human Rights as legislated for through the Human Rights Act 1998. This is their right.
"The resource issues confronted by the PSNI must be looked at not just as a devolved budgetary matter, but as one that lies at the door of Westminster also.
"If the mechanism to police the past had been established according to human rights standards, much money would not have been squandered to force victims now to litigate. This is their right."
The unfinished inquests stretch back decades and often concern firearms killings by police and troops in circumstances that are bitterly disputed, or deaths caused by paramilitaries suspected of having security force connections.
One case involves the death of Roseanne Mallon, 76, shot dead in May 1994 by a loyalist gunman while she was sitting on a sofa at her-sister-in-law's home in Tyrone.
The inquest began eight years after her death but was adjourned many times over the following years as lawyers representing her family tried to discover more about two army surveillance cameras overlooking the scene.