Northern Ireland

Families win first stage of battle over inquests suspension

John Leckey (l) John Mr Larkin (r)
Image caption NI's senior coroner John Leckey (l) said Mr Larkin (r) may have exceeded his powers

Families of people killed in controversial circumstances during the Troubles have been granted leave to appeal a decision to suspend inquests into the deaths.

NI's senior coroner John Leckey suspended 21 inquests that were ordered by the Attorney General, John Larkin.

Mr Leckey said Mr Larkin may have exceeded his powers by ordering the hearings.

The inquests were adjourned due to potential national security concerns.

On Monday, a number of the families were given leave to apply for a judicial review of Mr Leckey's decision, at the High Court in Belfast.

Counsel for Mr Leckey said there was a question over whether the attorney general was acting outside his remit because some of the cases might include matters of national security.

'Blanket suspension'

In such cases the power to direct an inquest rests with the advocate general for England and Wales since national security matters are not a devolved power.

Counsel for the families told the court if Mr Leckey had an issue with Mr Larkin's inquest orders he should have challenged them on a "case by case basis" in the High Court rather than issue what was described as a "blanket suspension".

Counsel for the coroner said Mr Leckey wanted clarity that the inquests had been properly ordered at the outset.

He said it was not in anyone's interests for the inquests to start, only to be stopped "due to a technicality".

The court was told the families should have been able to make submissions before Mr Leckey made his decision.

Instead many had heard about it on the BBC, the court heard.

The cases include the deaths of 11 people shot dead by the Army in Ballymurphy in 1971 and a child shot dead with a plastic bullet.

It also includes that of Gerard Slane shot dead by loyalists in his west Belfast home in 1988 amid allegations of collusion involving Army agent Brian Nelson.

The case is being taken by Mr Slane's widow, Teresa, who was denied legal aid to mount it.

The Relatives for Justice group was in court and welcomed the outcome.

The case has been listed for hearing on February 18.

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