Mike Ritchie writes on the Talks where British officials have produced a flawed legacy investigation mechanism and argues that Irish government need to assert rights of victims of State violence and collusion.
Monitoring the talks and reading the leaked documents from the Stormont House talks, Relatives for Justice is increasingly concerned at the partial approach being taken by the two governments in their proposals on dealing with the legacy of conflict. The overall architecture resembles the Haass/O’Sullivan model but important details have been changed.
Of particular concern is the proposal to include legacy inquests within the remit of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU). Everyone agrees that the inquest process is lengthy and frustrating. But the problems are caused by prevarication on the side of the PSNI and the Ministry of Defence, facilitated by government lawyers. The delays and redactions are excruciating and indicate simply that the police and the spooks want to keep their illegal activity during the conflict in the dark. The system put in place by DCC Drew Harris places endless obstructions to officers of the court who are seeking to implement Article 2 rights of their clients.
Instead of addressing these matters, the talks proposals suggest that a less stringent examination of state killings through the HIU would provide a more convenient means to avoid state accountability for the actions of its police, military and agents. By moving inquests to the HIU process:
- Victims’ families will not have legal representation for their interests; relatives will only be able to submit questions to the person overseeing the investigation;
- The perpetrators of the killings will not be compellable witnesses;
- There will be no public hearings where killers have to answer for their actions including to relatives’ own lawyers acting in their behalf;
- The investigations will be cursory and dependent on national security considerations;
- The potential for prosecutions of state employees and/or agents will be negligible; the British state always looks after its own;
- It is not clear how HIU independence, as required by European case law, will be guaranteed, especially if, as proposed, oversight is in the hands of the Policing Board.
For all the caution shown by coroners, they are bound by European procedural requirements and are amenable to judicial review. The HIU seems designed to keep matters safely in-house, prevent truth from emerging and ensure soldiers, police and informers are protected from emerging truth.
All in all, the HIU as currently designed in skeleton shows no prospect of being Article 2 compliant. It must be resisted. It would be foolish to abolish inquests in favour of something far less substantial and rights based.
It is to be expected that the British government will adopt a self-interested attitude to their role in the north. The Irish government’s role, however, should be to hold the British government to account for its policies in the north. In this divided community, the basis of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement was for the Irish government to be a guarantor of people’s rights and entitlements. The Irish government must not be part of the British government’s attempts to dilute the Haass/O’Sullivan proposals or to prevent the denial of human rights and transparency in respect of British government and British army/RUC Special Branch wrong-doing during the conflict.