Council of Europe has 'serious concerns' over Historical Investigations Unit delays

By Cormac O'Keeffe
Security Correspondent

The Council of Europe has expressed “serious concerns” at the delay in setting up the Historical Investigations Unit and other legacy institutions in the North.

In a review of the implementation of judgements from the European Court of Human Rights, the Coe's committee of ministers said it was “imperative” that British authorities find a way to ensure effective investigations in legacy cases.

Commenting on last month's landmark UK Supreme Court decision in the Finucane case, the Coe also said it had asked the British government to provide a response to it regarding the judgement by June 21.

The UK Supreme Court ruled that the British government had not complied with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to hold an effective investigation into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in February 1989.

The 47-member international organisation also expressed “serious regret” that investigations and related litigations in a range of cases had still not been completed.

In a statement, the committee of ministers said: “The deputies reiterated their serious concerns about the delay in the establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit and other legacy institutions and underlined that, notwithstanding the complexity of the broader political picture, it is imperative that a way forward be found to enable effective investigations to be conducted, particularly in light of the length of time that has already passed since these judgments became final and the failure of previous initiatives to achieve effective, expeditious investigations.”

It noted the public consultation on draft legislation regarding the establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit and three other legacy institutions set out in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement concluded in October 2018.

It said the consultation had drawn a large number of responses, including from victims’ groups and civil society organisations.

The committee noted “with satisfaction” the authorities’ indication that they remained committed to the establishment of those institutions to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past and that it hoped to present amended legislation to Westminister in the near future.

The committee “strongly encouraged” the authorities to act on this commitment, to provide an “estimated timetable” for the next steps and to ensure that the legislation introduced to parliament would guarantee the Historical Investigations Unit’s independence in both law and practice.

It said the plans should enable the unit to conduct effective investigations which are sufficiently accessible to the victims’ families and in full compliance with Article 2 of the Convention.

On the Finucane case, the statement said: “The deputies recalled also the committee’s decision of December 2015 in relation to the Finucane case to resume consideration of the reopening of individual measures once the domestic litigation has concluded; noted in this respect the judgment of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom of 27 February 2019; invited the authorities to provide their response to the judgment by 21 June 2019.”

- You can read the full Coe statement here.

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