Next Government Urged to scrap Legacy Act as legal challenge begins

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The Legislation became law last September.

By Jonathan McCambridge (PA)

The next Westminster government has been urged to scrap the Legacy Act and listen to the victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Victims spoke out as a Government challenge to a ruling that part of the controversial legislation is unlawful began at the Court of Appeal in Belfast.

Earlier this year, a High Court judge ruled that one of the central elements of the Act, the provision for conditional immunity from prosecution for Troubles offences, should be struck out.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act passed into law in September.

From May 1, all civil cases and inquests that were not at their findings stage were halted.

Responsibility for investigating all legacy cases has since been transferred to a new truth recovery body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

The new arrangements have been controversial with victims’ groups and organisations, and are opposed by all of the main political parties in Northern Ireland.

Opening the appeal on Tuesday, barrister for the Government Tony McGleenan KC began his submissions by summarising a number of previous unsuccessful attempts to deal with the legacy of the Troubles since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

Labour has previously said if it formed the next government it would restore legacy inquests and the ability for Troubles victims to bring civil cases.

However, it has said it would not immediately scrap the ICRIR, but wanted to see if it could command the confidence of victims’ families.

Speaking outside court, Grainne Teggart, from Amnesty International, said the Court of Appeal hearing was the “crucial next step in the fight for justice” for Troubles victims.

She said: “Victims are here once again to fight for those rights.

“The next UK government has the chance to right this historic wrong. It must immediately, as an urgent legislative priority, repeal the Troubles Act and put in place victims’ centred processes that prioritise victims and not perpetrators.

“The first 100 days of this government must show that rights and the rule of law will be respected, protected and upheld.

“We urge the next government to listen to the calls from victims, to do the right thing and overturn this law as a priority.”

Martina Dillon, whose husband Seamus was shot dead by loyalists in 1997, said victims had no choice but to put their faith in the next government.

She said: “We will continue to fight on until we get inquests.

“I am not fighting for me, I am fighting for everybody here. Every victim is entitled to an inquest.”

A number of families of Troubles victims have launched a cross-appeal to the human rights compliance of the ICRIR.

The High Court judgment in February ruled that the ICRIR is able to carry out human rights-compliant investigations and is independent.

Ms Teggart said: “Our significant concerns with that body remain.

“We need Article 2 compliant investigations so that victims can finally get truth and justice for their loved ones.

“They shouldn’t have to fight through the courts, but they will and will continue until such times as their rights are vindicated.”

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