“Wasted year” for victims’ families

Posted By: January 28, 2017

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan has hit out at the lack of progress on legacy issues.
Allison Morris. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, January 28, 2017

THE north’s most senior judge has hit out at a political stalemate on legacy issues, saying it has been “a wasted year” for victims’ families.

Sir Declan Morgan, pictured, also defended his approach to Troubles inquests, rejecting any suggestion he has given priority to cases involving state killings.

The judge was speaking yesterday to members of the Victims and Survivors Forum in Belfast, almost a year after he proposed that a specialist unit be set up to deal with a backlog of legacy inquests.

Despite appeals for politicians to approve funding for the plan, money has been blocked until an overall legacy package is agreed.

Sir Declan said he had let it be known he was “ready and willing to assist” new institutions proposed for dealing with the past.

“I regard it as crucially important that we meet the needs of all victims and survivors,” he said.

“Disappointingly, there has been no obvious sign of progress thus far.

“It has, in effect, been a wasted year.

“We are now in a period of inaction that will carry through until the end of March at the very least.

“Wasted time is something we can ill afford, but it is as yet unclear to me when there may be a further opportunity to move forward on these matters.”

Sir Declan also responded yesterday to criticism of his office with regard to inquests involving state killings, saying the judiciary has no role in the reopening of an inquest.

His comments come in the same week Director of Public Prosecution Barra McGrory has defended the independence of his office following criticism linked to charges brought against three former soldiers.

“It has been suggested in some quarters that I have somehow chosen to given priority to cases in which it is the state that is being held to account rather than terrorist organizations,” Sir Declan said.

“I have not, at any stage, sought to promote the rights of any group of victims or survivors to the detriment of others.

“I have, rather, made it clear on a number of occasions that I want to see outcomes delivered for all victims and survivors.”

He said his focus on legacy inquests “is a direct result of the responsibilities placed on me over a year ago by the Department of Justice.”

“I cannot ignore my statutory responsibilities, but I do understand the fears and concerns of other victims and survivors, many of whom are also bitterly disappointed by the delay in achieving a political resolution on an overall legacy package.

“That is why I have made it clear in my meetings over the past year with those involved in those political discussions – in meetings with the secretary of state, with the justice minister, with the first minister and with the deputy first minister – that I am more than happy to assist with ensuring the effective operation of the new institutions that have been proposed under the Stormont House Agreement.”

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson said last night it was of “deep concern” that Sir Declan has not been supported to deliver the inquests, and said she was worried about the impact of the current debate about Troubles prosecutions on victims.