Legal storm over Troubles files will 'not be decided for a month'
A legal battle over the release of inquest documents will not be decided for at least another month.
Proceedings brought by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers over the disclosure of papers relating to decades-old killings were adjourned until September following a hearing at the High Court in Belfast.
The case, seen as a test of devolved powers, will now focus on who has legal authority for releasing the material.
Lawyers for the Secretary of State and Chief Constable Matt Baggott took action after Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin delivered inquest and court files to victims' group Relatives for Justice and KRW Law firm.
They wanted circulation blocked until a full review of the material could be carried out.
The documents are connected to three deaths stretching back more than 40 years.
They include the British Army shooting of IRA man Paddy McAdorey in Belfast in 1971, the killing of student Michael Donnelly by a plastic bullet in 1980, and the loyalist murder of Sarah Larmour a year earlier.
Ms Ni Chuilin's department has responsibility for the Public Records Office where the papers are held.
Concerns centred on the possible disclosure of any sensitive information on members of the security forces.
A temporary injunction was secured late last Friday night - hours after the Minister made the handover.
Since then KRW Law and Relatives for Justice have given undertakings to take all immediate steps to request retrieval of the papers from victims' families.
In court today Attorney General John Larkin QC, representing the Minister, described her as "the keeper of the records".
Following further discussions Mr Justice Stephens was told the case was to proceed by way of a construction summons - a method of determining the law on who has responsibility for disclosing the documents.
Barry Macdonald QC, for the defendants, confirmed the undertakings would continue until the case resumes on September 13.
But he added: "There is absolutely no reason for my clients to be involved in the proceedings and there never was."
Tony McGleenan QC, for the Secretary of State and Chief Constable, expressed unease that some of the material may not yet have been recovered from next of kin.
With some family representatives in court, he said: "It's a source of ongoing concern, given some of the sensitivities, that they are not returned."
But Mr Justice Stephens pointed out that efforts have been made to recover the papers.
Outside the court solicitor Niall Murphy of KRW Law hit out at the Secretary of State, claiming it was "a disgrace" that "draconian, midnight, secret court applications" had been used to try to asset constitutional authority.
Vowing that the families will not be undermined from their bid to secure fresh inquests, he said: "There is clearly a competing constitutional issue between the Secretary of State and the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure with regards to statutory interpretations of who has responsibility for public records."
Clara Reilly, chairperson of Relatives for Justice, insisted Ms Ni Chuilin was right to hand over the documents.
"The Attorney General said in court that the Minister is the keeper of the records," she pointed out.
"If the Minister were to refuse to give out records to victims of the IRA there would be all sorts of chaos around these courts, with politicians and protests.
"The Minister acted appropriately, within her ministerial power and within the law."
Belfast Telegraph Digital