The Law Society has expressed “deep concern” about the British Government’s recent decision not to hold an immediate public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.
In a letter to the British Ambassador Mr Paul Johnston, the Law Society’s President James Cahill says that the Law Society’s Council, at its meeting on 11 December, “re-affirmed its now decades-old policy of demanding that the British Government immediately establish an independent public inquiry into the likelihood of State collusion in the heinous murder of Pat Finucane”.
The letter calls on the ambassador to convey the Society’s condemnation to the British Government, and to ask it to reconsider its position.
“Pat Finucane, in his representation of his clients, defended the rule of law and ensured access to justice, despite the threat this posed to his own safety, a threat that proved fatal when he was brutally shot on 12 February 1989 in front of his wife and children,” Mr Cahill writes.
“His killing sent a message to other lawyers practising in the North that they, too, could be targeted for defending their clients if this challenged certain sectarian interests, and that such lawyers would not be protected,” he adds.
Standing in solidarity with endangered lawyers
Mr Cahill says that the Rule of Law stands as a cornerstone in a properly functioning democracy, but it requires constant vigilance.
“For this reason,” he adds, “the Law Society of Ireland frequently stands in solidarity with endangered lawyers all over the world where they are threatened for their defence of human rights by their opponents, and State authorities collude in such oppression or fail to act to prevent it.
“Accordingly, I am writing to express the solidarity of the Law Society with the family of Pat Finucane in seeking an effective public inquiry into his death, one that is capable of establishing the facts behind his murder and, in particular, the full extent of State collusion in same,” he writes.
‘Long history of failure’
In the letter, Mr Cahill refers to the “long history” of the British Government’s failure to live up to previous commitments and legal obligations to hold an inquiry, including:
- In 2001, the British Government made a commitment as part of the Weston Park agreement to hold such a public inquiry if so recommended by the Judge Cory. Judge Cory carried out a detailed inquiry into the case, and issued his report on 1 April 2004, and found that a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane was required. This finding has never been acted upon.
- A decision of the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that the failure of the British Government to hold a prompt and effective investigation into his death was a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This breach has not been remedied to date.
- Most recently, and unequivocally, the UK Supreme Court, in a judgment of 27 February 2019, determined that there has still not been an effective independent investigation into Pat Finucane’s murder in line with the requirements of Article 2 ECHR and the British Government is in default in that regard. However, on 30 November 2020, it was reported that the British Government was referring the matter to the PSNI and that no independent public inquiry was planned. The PSNI clearly cannot address the deficits in investigation identified by the European Court of Human Rights or the UK Supreme Court.
A failure to uphold the Rule of Law
“The refusal to fulfil previous commitments and take the appropriate action to address the breach of human rights identified by the European Court of Human Rights and the UK Supreme Court is, in the view of the Law Society, a failure to uphold the Rule of Law,” Mr Cahill writes.
“It is with regret that we feel compelled to record this view yet again, but it would be remiss to condemn the oppression of lawyers all over the world, and ignore the ongoing injustice happening in our neighbouring jurisdiction,” he adds.
The president concludes: “The Law Society of Ireland is respectfully calling on you, as Ambassador, to convey our condemnation of the decision of [the] British Government not to establish an independent public inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane, and to ask the British Government to reconsider its position in this regard.”