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Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK's Northern Ireland Deputy Director with victims families and supporters in Belfast in February Alamy Stock Photo
Northern Ireland

New Troubles Legacy Act, in force from today, is 'affront to justice', Amnesty says

The Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery becomes operational today.

THE NEW TROUBLES Legacy Act, which takes effect in Northern Ireland today, is a “complete affront to justice”, Amnesty International has said. 

The Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) was established by the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation Act) 2023, although it operates independently of the UK government.

The body will take on the remit to investigate hundreds of unresolved legacy deaths and cases of serious harm which happened before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The PSNI will no longer have responsibility for investigating unsolved crimes relating to the Troubles. Those investigations will switch to the new commission.

Prosecutions that are ongoing will continue to conclusion. The Police Ombudsman will not take on any new investigations relating to Troubles incidents.

From today, new civil litigation will be barred and inquests into Troubles deaths which have not concluded oral hearings will be stopped.

A number of legacy inquests were moving through the coronial system in Northern Ireland and were unable to be completed before the guillotine date. Several more had been ordered but proceedings had not even begun.

The ICRIR can take over the probes in the unfinished inquests if a request is made to it.

Opposition

All of the main political parties in Northern Ireland, victims’ groups and organisations, and the Irish Government are opposed to the new arrangements.

Opponents of the Legacy Act have characterised it as an attempt to shut down access to truth and justice for Troubles victims. It has also been claimed that the legislation was motivated by the UK government’s desire to stop prosecutions of military veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

In a statement today, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland deputy director Gráinne Teggart said that today is a “cliff edge for truth, justice, and accountability for victims of the Northern Ireland conflict”.

She said the UK government “should be utterly ashamed of the suffering they have heaped on victims by this appalling Act”.

“This law is a significant attack on rights, a disturbing interference in the justice system and a complete affront to justice. It also sets a dangerous international precedent and must not stand,” Teggart said. 

Earlier this week, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the legislation should be “binned”. 

The Labour Party previously said it would repeal the Act if it came to power and wants to return to the legacy principles set out in the Stormont House Agreement.

The Irish Government has launched an interstate legal case against the UK, claiming that the new laws breach the European Convention on Human Rights. That case is still to be heard.

Support for Act

Former senior police officer Peter Sheridan is commissioner for investigations at the new ICRIR.

He has challenged politicians in Northern Ireland to “step up” and support his work.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Sheridan said he was not naive about the “contested nature” of the legislation which created the ICRIR.

“Given time, we hope that by dealing with victims and survivors, by putting them front and centre right the way through the process, hopefully that starts to build confidence in that community as they talk to each other,” Sheridan said. 

“But it also requires other people to step up, to start to support the commission, including our politicians.”

The PSNI’s chief constable Jon Boutcher has said the force will provide a new truth recovery body with “unfettered access” to material it holds about Troubles deaths.

He also said that the force would continue to investigate murder cases which do not fall within the timeframe set out in the Legacy Act.

“The establishment of the ICRIR brings with it a requirement for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, along with other investigative bodies, to stop all ongoing work on legacy-related cases falling within the remit of the Legacy Act,” Boucher said in a statement today. 

“This also sees the discontinuance of a number of coronial inquests and civil legal proceedings,” he said. 

Boucher said he is “very aware that for victim’s families this will be an unsettling and uncertain time”.

“Many have sought answers for years into the death of their loved ones and at times have been frustrated in their efforts to learn the truth,” he added. 

“I want those families to know that should they choose to approach the Independent Commission in relation to their case that the Police Service of Northern Ireland will ensure that Sir Declan Morgan and his team have unfettered access to all of the material in those cases.”

Includes reporting by Press Association

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