Northern Ireland

Troubles legacy inquests: Victims commissioner welcomes five-year plan

Sir Declan Morgan
Image caption Sir Declan Morgan has proposed setting up a legacy inquest unit

Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson has welcomed a five-year plan by the most senior judge in NI to deal with legacy inquests into some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles.

The 56 cases involve 95 deaths, and include killings by police officers and soldiers, and others where there are allegations of collusion.

Sir Declan Morgan wants to establish a new legacy inquest unit and a new electronic data management system to cope with the huge quantity of documentation involved in the cases.

Speaking at a victims and survivors conference in Belfast on Wednesday, the Lord Chief Justice said his plan will require the provision of additional resources.

'Backlog'

If the funding is provided before the assembly election in May, Sir Declan said the new unit could start work in September.

"The secretary of state has indicated that she would give very serious consideration to a request for funding from the Northern Ireland Executive," he told the conference.

"I understand that the current position is that the minister of justice is about to write to the executive inviting members to agree to put such a request forward and outlining the level of resource that will be required to allow us to start addressing the backlog of legacy cases.

Family influence

"The rate of progress will depend of course on the level of funding provided," he added.

"There remains time before the assembly elections for the executive to take a decision to put forward a bid to the secretary of state for the draw-down of funding to allow legacy inquests to proceed."

Sir Declan said his proposed way forward had been influenced by the views of families of victims he met to discuss a review of legacy cases by Lord Justice Weir earlier this year.

"I found that meeting extremely worthwhile and what I took away from it was that the only way to gain the trust and confidence of the families is to deliver outcomes," he said.

Image caption Victims commissioner Judith Thompson welcomed Sir Declan's initiative

But he stressed that families must be realistic about what can be achieved.

"I have set a timescale of five years for completion of the existing legacy cases which are before the coroner, from the point at which resources are provided," he explained.

"I know that the families would like to see their cases dealt with sooner but it is my honest assessment that this is the amount of time that will be required to deliver Article 2 compliant inquests."

'Progress'

His comments have been welcomed by the victims commissioner, Judith Thompson.

Speaking to the BBC after Sir Declan Morgan addressed the conference, she described his initiative as "a very important piece of progress", which she believes the families of victims will welcome.

"I am extremely encouraged by the comments that the Lord Chief Justice made," she said.

"I believe that in what he is doing to unlock the blockage in our legacy inquest system, he is really providing a piece of leadership.

"He's saying 'this is difficult, I think I've found a way that it can be dealt with, I can be clear about the resource I need, I can be honest and clear with families about what they can expect to get from this'," she added.

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