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A number of protests have taken place against the UK Government’s planned legacy legislation. Alamy Stock Photo
The Troubles

Work of new Troubles legacy body will be ‘led by the wishes of victims’, says commission chair

Declan Morgan, who will head the commission, said there may be the possibility that the commission would be able to recommend prosecutions for Troubles offences.

THE WORK OF a new body to deal with the legacy of the Troubles will be led by the wishes of victims, the retired judge who will head the commission has said.

Declan Morgan, designate chairman of the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), also said he believes there may be opportunities for his investigatory team to recommend prosecutions in some cases.

He also said there were several elements of the current legacy inquest process which could be incorporated into the work of the ICRIR.

The commission will take on its legal shape when the UK Government’s Legacy Bill receives royal assent and is expected to start work reviewing hundreds of unresolved Troubles cases next summer.

It will be able to provide reports to families or attempt to answer specific questions and will also be able to recommend prosecutions.

Immunity can also be granted to perpetrators who provide information about crimes.

Work has already begun to recruit commissioners to the ICRIR and a public survey to gather views on how it should operate is open until 10 September.

sir-declan-morgan-the-lord-chief-justice-delivers-his-third-annual-address-to-a-gathering-of-senior-members-of-the-northern-ireland-judiciary-and-criminal-justice-system-inn-of-court-royal-courts File image of retired judge Declan Morgan, who will head the commission. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Morgan told the PA news agency: “The start of our work has really been about making sure that we make the public aware of the commission and that we wanted the public to be the drivers of the way in which the commission would set up its work.

“I have reached out to numerous groups within Northern Ireland as a starting point.

“The survey was designed to ensure that the wider public would have every chance to make their contribution to the way in which the commission should work.

“I would anticipate that our engagement with the public would be a feature of the way in which the commission tries to set about its work.

“We are committed to the view that this should be a victims and survivors-led process, but that the public should also have their say.”

The former lord chief justice for Northern Ireland said its approach would differ depending on the wishes of families in particular cases.

“What happens when you talk to victims is that there are all sorts of things that people want to have information about.

“It may be about the circumstances in which their loved one was murdered, it may be about questions around who was there or it may be a question why was that person targeted.

“It may be there a relationship with some other case where there was an incident, it may be about wanting a criminal investigation.

“But for some people a criminal investigation may actually be a re-traumatising experience which they would want to avoid.

“And there are some people who will not want to engage with the commission precisely because of the trauma issues, we are very conscious of that and we are seeking to talk to those groups who provide support for victims and survivors to see if we can learn from them ways in which we can make this process as easy as we can make it for those who want to engage with it.

“There are a lot of people out there who were hurt, injured, damaged, as a result of the Troubles, and a lot of those people still are out there and continue to be hurt.

“Information recovery is one of the ways we can do something to help those people.”

He added: “It may be there will be some who will sit on the sidelines before choosing to engage, but if they see that the people who do engage are getting a service we would expect more to follow.”

Morgan said his commission would study previous approaches when deciding how to approach those involved in terrorist groups who may have information.

He said: “This has happened (before) and there are examples of the way it can be done.

“Some of that happened in relation to Operation Kenova where people who had admitted criminal offences were approached with a view to seeing whether they were prepared to give information and there was some success in relation to that.

“We will have to devise our own policies as to how we carry out investigations but we are obviously going to try to build on what has been successful in other areas and that would certainly be one of the things we would be examining carefully.”

With regard to potential prosecutions, he said: “I think it is very difficult but I don’t rule out the possibility that there may be cases out there where prosecutions may be recommended.

“We certainly will have the capacity to carry out full detailed investigations which will be to the appropriate police standard and prepare files for prosecutions where the evidence stacks up to support that.”

The establishment of the ICRIR will also lead to the end of the legacy inquest process in Northern Ireland, which was originally established by Morgan when he was lord chief justice.

He said: “I think that the inquests have been very helpful to some of the families because of the outcomes they have achieved.

“I think it is particularly important for families where, for one reason or another, the state has branded the people who were killed as terrorists. The inquests have been able to demonstrate they were innocent people.

“There is nothing in this legislation to prevent people being questioned about events that have occurred in the past, including those where an inquest has been recommended by the attorney general.

“There is nothing to prevent lawyers being made officers of the commission for the purpose of asking questions.

“There are huge elements of what is in the legacy inquest system that can be translated into this system, if we want to do it.

“I set up the legacy inquest process and I am certainly not looking to put in place something which is second best.”

Once the commission is formally established there will be a five-year period in which people can make applications for it to investigate cases.

It is anticipated that the work of the ICRIR will take between seven and ten years to complete.

Author
Press Association
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