Northern Ireland

Legacy inquests: Judge calls for 'urgent action'

Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan, file pic
Image caption Sir Declan Morgan said it was hugely disappointing politicians had not yet reached agreement on funding for inquests

Northern Ireland's most senior judge has called on the British government and the Stormont Executive to make urgent progress on dealing with the past.

The Lord Chief Justice requested £10m funding for a 5-year programme to deal with inquests into some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles.

The request was blocked by First Minister Arlene Foster.

Outstanding legacy inquests involving more than 80 deaths remain to be heard.

Some of the killings happened more than 40 years ago.

Sir Declan Morgan said it was hugely disappointing that politicians at Stormont had not yet reached agreement on how to deal with the past.

Backlog

In his annual address to mark the opening of the new legal year, the Lord Chief Justice said that addressing the significant backlog of legacy inquests was a matter of real concern.

"The coroner's courts will not be able to satisfy there legal obligation to deliver these inquests within a reasonable timeframe in the absence of the necessary resources," said Sir Declan.

"I do not want us to remain in that position since that would be yet another devastating blow to the families."

The Lord Chief Justice said the judiciary would face up to its responsibilities on dealing with legacy issues, but that others also had to do so.

"I therefore call again on the local executive and legislature, and also on the UK Government, to play their part as a matter of urgency," he added.

"We cannot move on while we remain under the shadow of the past. Nor should we. But time is not on our side."

Disappointed

The audience at the event in the Royal Courts of Justice included Justice Minister Claire Sugden MLA, Attorney General John Larkin, members of the judiciary and senior figures in the justice system.

Sir Declan said there would need to be political agreement to "an injection of additional resources" to deal with the legacy inquests.

The Lord Chief Justice made it clear he was disappointed his five-year plan for dealing with them could not proceed before politicians reach a wider agreement on new institutions to deal with the past.

Image caption Justice minister Claire Sugden was in the audience for the Lord Chief Justice's address

"Disappointingly, it now appears that a political resolution will be required on an overall legacy package before the resources required for legacy inquests will be released," he said.

Sir Declan said that in the absence of additional funding, he anticipated that coroners would only have the capacity to complete two further legacy inquests during the remainder of the financial year.

He said if this situation continues it would be "decades" before all of the outstanding cases would be completed, and that this "would not comply with the legal requirement to deal with the backlog of cases within a reasonable timeframe."

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