Ruling boosts victims' legal battle over 'collusion' with UVF killer gang
Bereaved relatives suing over alleged State collusion with a loyalist gang behind dozens of sectarian murders have secured a major breakthrough in their battle to access documents.
A High Court judge ruled yesterday that relevant material obtained for lead cases can be shared with others in the group action examining a UVF killing spree in the Mid Ulster area.
Citing the need to avoid delay, Mr Justice McAlinden decided that the usual restrictions on disclosure can be amended.
He said: "There are special circumstances in the context of this body of cases which constitute cogent and persuasive reasons, based on public policy considerations, which compels the court to make an order varying and dispensing with the implied undertaking which normally applies in relation to discovery."
His determination, which is set to be finalised next month, could speed out a body of lawsuits against the Chief Constable, Ministry of Defence, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and three individuals allegedly linked to the sectarian campaign during the late Eighties and early Nineties.
A total of 27 cases are being taken over 13 separate incidents in that time period.
Writs have been issued seeking damages for alleged unlawful killing, negligence, breach of statutory duty and misfeasance in public office.
Three lead cases have been identified, one of which involves a notorious UVF attack on a mobile shop in the Drumbeg estate, Craigavon, in March 1991.
Brian Frizzell (29), Eileen Duffy (19) and 16-year-old Katrina Rennie were shot dead. Amid issues over resource problems facing the State bodies being sued, lawyers for the families sought permission to be able to share any relevant material obtained during discovery for the lead cases with all clients in the Mid Ulster series of actions.
Mr Justice McAlinden concluded that it represented an appropriate and workable framework for a system of relaxing implied undertakings on disclosure.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs stressed the significance of the ruling.
Kevin Winters, of KRW Law, said: "This is a huge boost for many of the families afflicted by collusion in relation to the Mid Ulster UVF at this time in the conflict.
"Not only that, but it sets a template for future applications, this is relevant right across the board for a raft of cases currently before the court."
Mr Winters added: "It's a very positive judicial pronouncement on the way forward to speed up legacy litigation."
Gavin Booth of Phoenix Law said his clients will now be able to access discovery in order to effectively progress their cases.
Mr Booth stressed: "All families are entitled to justice in a way that's compliant with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights."