Legacy Legal Limbo – Inquests update

Justice Michael Humphreys

Presiding Coroner Mr. Justice Humphreys describes present situation as a ‘legal limbo.’  

The Presiding Coroner Mr. Justice Humphreys conducted a review of legacy related inquests in the High Court, Belfast on Thursday 9th November 2023. He described the present situation as a kind of ‘legal limbo’ with legal challenges to the British government’s Legacy Bill and a cut off date to end legacy inquests by next May.

In total 12 legacy inquests were reviewed this morning. The coroner referred to the inquests up for review as inquests that were unallocated, unheard or that have been directed by the Attorney General for a fresh inquest.  Amongst the inquests reviewed was the case of the New Lodge Six which relates to six Catholic men who were allegedly shot dead by the British army’s uncover Military Reaction Force in north Belfast over 50 years ago. The Attorney General directed that a new inquest be held into the deaths in February 2021.

There are ongoing legal challenges to the Legacy Bill some of which are even questioning the legality of the bill itself said Justice Humphreys. He went on to say,

“Against this background at this stage, it is not possible to know if the bill will survive. Whist on the other hand the Legacy Bill is on the statute books and the landscape has changed since the last review of these cases in June of this year.”

Families and their legal representatives have continued to push their cases in the interim period and the net product of that work is that there is a significant number of inquests to be heard between now and next May. However, Justice Humphreys stated,

“There is a limit to what the coronial system can do between now and the cut off date of next May.”

He also recognized that there was the overriding human dimension of the families and the impact this has on them in their pursuit of the truth and trying to find out how their loved ones were killed.

Mr. Justice Humphreys went on to say that in his experience,

“While far from perfect the inquest process has been productive and helpful in getting answers and the truth. At the same time, I am acutely aware that many families have not or do not have answers to how their loved ones were killed. It also has to be acknowledged that the inquest system has been a selective process.”

A further review of all the cases will be held next week by Mr. Justice Humphreys.