01/03/2019

New Legacy Inquest System Launched To Speed Up Investigations

The Department of Justice has launched a £55 million initiative with a new Coroner investigation unit in a bid speed up legacy inquests and address all outstanding cases.

It comes as some of the "most sensitive, complex and high profile deaths" during the Troubles are yet to be fully investigated, according to the department. There are currently 52 cases relating to 93 deaths between the 1930's and 2000's at various stages of the investigation process.

Peter May, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Justice said the delays have been unacceptable to both the families involved and the justice system.

He commented: "In the Hughes Judicial Review judgment, the Court ruled that progress on securing funding for legacy inquests should not be linked with agreement on the overall legacy package but taken forward as a separate issue. This initiative takes account of that judgment and will support a significant expansion of capacity to clear the outstanding legacy inquests over the next six years."

The reform will allow the implementation of proposals developed by the Lord Chief Justice in 2016, and comes as the part of Northern Ireland's agreed budget for 2019-20.

A new Legacy Inquest Unit will be set up within the Coroners Service to process legacy inquests, under the remit of the Lord Chief Justice as President of Coroners Courts.
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The Unit will be supported by increased capacity in PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service and other justice agencies. The six year timescale for the initiative reflects the need to build up capacity and the complexity of the outstanding legacy inquest cases.

Welcoming the support the Department had received in progressing the reform programme, Peter May added: "I am grateful to both the Lord Chief Justice for developing his proposals to reform legacy inquest process and to the Department of Finance for agreeing to the business case to bring this programme into operation."

SDLP Policing and Justice Spokesperson Dolores Kelly MLA has welcomed the announcement, saying reform was "long overdue".

"The funding of legacy inquests should have been resolved long ago. Too many families have waited too long for the truth," she commented.

"It is my hope that the new legacy unit to be set up within the Coroners Service to process legacy inquests can provide the truth that has been withheld for decades. It is incumbent that the PSNI and Ministry of Defence co-operate fully with the Lord Chief Justice to ensure full disclosure and access to truth is not inhibited in any way.

"Only the fullest disclosure will provide confidence to the broader community of the sincerity of the British Government in getting to the truth. The SDLP recognises that 100's of other families still await justice and accountability. Commitments have been made in the recent consultation on the proposed legacy institutions under the Stormont House Agreement; these commitments must be fulfilled sooner rather than later in order that all families are no longer denied the truth."



(JG/CM)

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