Mrs Justice Keegan has now completed her review of the 40 legacy inquests – relating to 71 deaths – which she has been carrying out over the last three weeks. She will now consider all the information and develop a schedule of cases based on how far along the route to readiness they are. This will depend on how much work has taken place in respect of handing over material, identifying witnesses, how complex the issues are and how much time will be required for hearing the actual evidence.
Today we publish a table containing our notes of these preliminary hearings. Advocacy staff attended almost all of the hearings in order to develop a global view of outstanding legacy inquests. The table should be a useful tool to anyone seeking to understand the formal legal process to be followed. The notes show the factors that need to be considered in getting everything ready for the inquest proper to proceed. We hope particularly that the table may be of assistance to families who can often feel overwhelmed by some of the formalities involved.
Justice Keegan will seek to schedule ten cases per year over the five year plan first worked out by Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan some years ago. Crucial will be the need for case management by the coroners appointed to the cases further down the line. As happened with the last review in 2015, there is little improvement in the PSNI and Ministry of Defence processing of documentation. Given the opportunity, there is delay and obfuscation. Unless appointed coroners take a robust approach to moving things forward, we predict that delays and excuses will proliferate.
We can expect the scheduling approach to emerge between Halloween and Christmas.
Though it is important to remember that each case involves a tragic loss for the next of kin, nevertheless, a case involving a single death by a uniformed British army patrol, for example, will be more straightforward than a set-piece ambush by the British army’s covert SAS, based on intelligence, high levels of surveillance and potential informer/s. The first case might be allocated two weeks in year one; the latter might require six to eight weeks and, because of redactions and state secrecy, be pushed into year three or four.
Some of the most controversial cases will continue to be battles for information and truth on the part of families as the state seeks to cover up its questionable – even illegal – use of lethal force. This will involve Public Interest Immunity (PII), redaction of documents and, most recently, closed material proceedings (CMP). These are secret hearings where families are not allowed to be present and hear what is happening. But even more kafka-esque, their own lawyers will be barred from attendance. Instead so-called special advocates – vetted to be “safe” from a national security perspective – will be appointed, supposedly to represent the families’ interests in the CMP. However, they will not be able to tell the families anything of what takes place.
Thus does British state secrecy descend into legal farce.
Nevertheless, in RFJ’s view, there will always be more information that emerges through the course of the inquest process and it is this continuing search for truth and justice that we are privileged to follow with families.
Should anyone wish to quote from the table, please credit Relatives for Justice.
Please see Inquest Timetable here Timetable of Legacy Inquests