The Council of Europe’s (CoE) Committee of Ministers has reiterated its concerns about the British Government’s controversial Troubles Legacy Bill, which has now been signed into law.
In a statement issued after a meeting this week, the committee “strongly urged” the British authorities to consider repealing the immunity provisions in the legislation.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 will create a new independent body called the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), and offer immunity from prosecution for individuals who co-operate with it.
The CoE group said that the proposed conditional immunity scheme “risks breaching obligations under article 2 of the European Convention [on Human Right] to prosecute and punish serious grave breaches of human rights”, adding that it also undermined the ICRIR’s capacity to carry out effective investigations within the meaning of article 2 of the convention.
The committee also said that it “deeply regretted” that a proposal to terminate pending inquests remained in the act, despite the cut-off date being extended to May 2024.
It expressed “profound concern” that this might lead to further delay and distress for individuals, if effective handover measures were not put in place,
The group described support for the ICRIR as “minimal”, and called on the British authorities to take “all necessary additional measures” to win public trust and the confidence of victims, their families and all stakeholders.
While the bill has become law, it still faces a number of legal challenges.
The committee repeated its concerns about the case of solicitor Pat Finucane, who was murdered in Belfast in 1989.
It noted that, while more than four years had passed since Britain’s Supreme Court judgment, there still had not been an inquiry into his death that complied with article 2 of the European convention. Neither was there a clear indication as to how the Northern Ireland Secretary proposed to proceed.
It called for a “full and clear response” to the Supreme Court judgment – including a decision on the measures that the British Government planned to take.
The committee also expressed concern that inquests into a number of other deaths in the North in the 1980s and 1990s had still not been completed, nor listed for hearing.