16/11/2001

Soldiers allowed to give evidence by video link

The High Court in London has overturned the decision that soldiers involved in giving evidence at the Bloody Sunday tribunal should appear in person at the inquiry being held in Londonderry.

The 36 former and serving soldiers, who brought the case to the High Court in London, feared that if they were forced to travel to Derry, where the Saville Inquiry investigating the events of Bloody Sunday sits, republicans would target them.

A previous decision by inquiry chairman Lord Saville of Newdigate had ruled that the soldiers had to attend in person to give evidence. Lord Saville ruled out any question of moving to the UK to hear the evidence because the chances of restoring public confidence would be “very seriously diminished if not destroyed” if the proceedings were held elsewhere.

However, on Friday November 16 Lord Justice Rose and Mr Justice Sullivan ruled that the soldiers would instead be allowed to give evidence by video-link. The soldiers’ lawyers argued at the High Court that their security could not be guaranteed in the city where 13 civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march on 30 January 1972.

In their ruling, two High Court judges said that the tribunal's conclusion that the soldiers had no reasonable fears for their safety was “erroneous and gave rise to procedural unfairness in relation to the soldier witnesses.”

Madden & Finucane, the solicitors who represent the majority of the families of the deceased and wounded said: “Our clients, whilst extremely disappointed, are not surprised given the succession of favourable rulings from the English Courts in favour of the soldiers. The willingness of these Courts to interfere in the decision-making of this distinguished international tribunal is without parallel in modern history.

“The proper place for the soldiers to give their evidence is, as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry held, the Guildhall in Derry where hundreds of civilian witnesses have already given their evidence and continue to do so.

“The families do not accept that there is a risk to the soldiers’ lives if they give evidence in Derry. It is noted that the judgment was given on the day after the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited Derry. Derry is thus regarded as safe enough for the British Royal Family to visit but apparently not safe enough for former British soldiers to give evidence. It is expected that the Tribunal will appeal this decision to the Court of Appeal.” (AMcE)

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