Belfast Telegraph

Omagh bomb legal action delays won't be tolerated, judge warns

By Alan Erwin

Delays which could leave legal action over intelligence gathered in the Omagh bombing unresolved until 2019 will not be tolerated, a High Court judge has warned.

Mr Justice McCloskey also told lawyers that plans put in place to speed up a wider catalogue of so-called legacy litigation are being jeopardised by requests for more time.

He said: "All of a sudden it's started to fall apart."

The judge, who is overseeing more than 40 judicial reviews into incidents from Northern Ireland's troubled past, made the comments as he urged parties to speed up in the Omagh atrocity case.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among 29 people killed by the Real IRA bombers, is challenging former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers' refusal to hold a public inquiry into the August 1998 attack.

The case centres on claims that a range of intelligence from British security agents, MI5 and RUC officers could have been drawn together to prevent the outrage.

Mr Gallagher launched his legal action after Ms Villiers rejected calls for a public investigation in September 2013.

She decided instead that a probe by Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire was the best way to address any outstanding issues surrounding the atrocity. 

In October 2014 Dr Maguire published a report where he found RUC Special Branch withheld some intelligence information from detectives hunting the bombers.

No one has ever been convicted of carrying out the attack.

Proceedings have been caught up in arguments over holding partially closed hearings amid fears the disclosure of sensitive material could damage national security.

As a fresh update was provided to the court, the judge pointed out that it was now two months into a "new phase" aimed at dealing with 10 of the 40 legacy-related judicial reviews by the end of next June.

"Arrangements have been made, judicial calendars have been prepared, judges schedules have been adjusted and deputy judges have been booked," he stressed.

"All of a sudden it's started to fall apart - it's falling apart in this case (and) it's not looking promising at all in some of the other cases where extensive extensions of time have very recently been requested on behalf of the respondents.

"The court is finding itself in an increasingly difficult and invidious position."

He noted that most of the cases commenced in either 2014 or 2015, with some dating back to 2013.

"All of this is antithetical to the overriding objective and to the principle which seems to have lost somewhere along the way that judicial review provides swift, practical and expeditious justice," Mr Justice McCloskey added.

"Everyone is being exhorted to do better. This is simply not good enough and I'm not prepared to sanction a further period of six months delay from today, which simply brings us to having a contentious discovery application I'm told will take three days.

"This scenario, the more one examines it, is pushing finality in this case back into the year 2019 and that is completely unacceptable.

"The message has got to be broadcast that this kind of lack of progress is just not tolerable."

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