Home Featured Legal blow for UK plan to offer immunity to Troubles-era killers – POLITICO
Legal blow for UK plan to offer immunity to Troubles-era killers – POLITICO

Legal blow for UK plan to offer immunity to Troubles-era killers – POLITICO

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The British government says its plan would promote reconciliation and allow Northern Ireland society to consign its decades of bloodshed to history. But it is opposed by all local parties and faces a separate legal challenge in Strasbourg filed by the Irish government.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris told the House of Commons that ministers would study the Belfast High Court ruling “very, very carefully” but remain “committed to implementing the Legacy Act.” This sets the stage for the U.K. to challenge the ruling at the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal and, if necessary, the Supreme Court in London.

Colton did rule that the proposed fact-finding body — the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery — should be able to conduct human rights-compliant investigations.

The Belfast-based commission, which the U.K. formed in May 2023 before the act was even passed, welcomed that part of the judge’s ruling and pledged to “reflect” Colton’s judgment “as we refine our proposals to carry out independent investigations from this summer.”

But, critically, the judge cast doubt on the legality of the commission’s key proposed feature — a power to provide cast-iron legal shields to cooperative witnesses against criminal prosecutions or civil lawsuits. Without this function, it’s doubtful whether any perpetrators, whether paramilitary veterans or retired British security personnel, would volunteer to implicate themselves in unsolved crimes.

Colton said he was “satisfied that the immunity from prosecution provisions under Section 19 of the act are in breach” of key European Convention on Human Rights protections.

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