15/01/2007

Victims Commissioner appointment not quashed

A High Court ruling has not quashed the appointment of Bertha McDougall as the Northern Ireland Interim Victims Commissioner.

However, in his ruling Lord Justice Girvan said that the appointment was "improper and politically motivated."

The decision by the High Court will see Mrs McDougall produce an annual report that will make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the issues of victims.

The production of the report, which was granted a two-month extension, is expected in January.

West Belfast woman Brenda Downes challenged Mrs Dougall's appointment in the High Court on the grounds that she did not have cross-community support in her role as Victims Commissioner.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State welcomed the decision not to quash the appointment, and appeal against the ruling is being considered.

Mr Hain said: "Today's court ruling recognises the important work which Bertha McDougall is doing on behalf of all victims. She is due to present her report to me soon and I welcome the fact that she can complete her work.

"I appointed Mrs McDougall as Interim Victims Commissioner for one year to produce a report so that when a permanent Victims Commissioner is in place, the preparatory work for that office will already have been done.

"Today's ruling recognises the importance of the work being undertaken by Mrs McDougall and I make no apology of getting this process started because for too long the needs of victims have not been comprehensively addressed.

"Whilst I welcome the Court's refusal to quash Mrs McDougall's appointment, I am disappointed by the finding that the appointment was unlawful and I will be appealing that in the strongest possible terms."

A senior QC is also examining the case after the Attorney General was asked to investigate the case following allegations that the NI Secretary of State had misled the High Court.

(SP/KMcA)

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