Geraldine Finucane appeals for Judges not to sit on Inquiry

Geraldine Finucane, widow of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, has personally written to all Senior Judges in England, Scotland and Wales to express her concerns about the new Inquiries Act. She has also asked each judge to indicate to the government, if asked, that he or she would not be prepared to accept appointment to an Inquiries Act Inquiry into the murder of her husband.

In her letter (below) to the judges Mrs Finucane points out that, such are their concerns about the new Inquiries Act, that Judge Peter Cory and Lord Saville of Newdigate have indicated that they would not be prepared to sit on any Inquiry set up under that Act. She concludes:

“In view of these considerations I write to request that, if approached to serve on an Inquiries Act Inquiry into my husband’s murder, you, like Lord Saville and Judge Cory refuse to accept such an appointment.”

Mrs Finucane has placed a full page notice in the The Times, London on 14th April 2005.

Letter from Geraldine Finucane

14th April 2005 —

On Sunday 12 February 1989 my husband Pat was murdered in front of our children and me.

In June 2002 Judge Peter Cory was appointed by the British and Irish Governments to “conduct a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion by the security forces” in my husband’s murder.

Judge Cory’s letter of appointment (reflecting the Weston Park Agreement) stated:

“In the event that a public inquiry is recommended … the … government will implement that recommendation”.

In my husband’s case Judge Cory concluded:

“There is strong evidence that collusive acts were committed by the army (FRU), the RUC SB and the Security Service. I am satisfied that there is a need for a public inquiry”.

Judge Cory made it clear (as para.1.294 of his report) that when he spoke of a “public inquiry” he took that term to encompass “certain essential characteristics” which included independence and full powers to subpoena witnesses and documents together with all the powers usually exercised by a Commissioner in a public inquiry. Judge Cory’s conclusions were delivered to the government in October 2003.

Despite the clarity of his recommendations and the judgment of the European Court which found that the government had, in breach of Article 2 ECHR, failed promptly and effectively to investigate Pat’s murder, the government failed to establish an inquiry as recommended.

In a statement to Parliament on 1 April 2004 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, said:

“… The inquiries will have the full powers of the High Court to compel witnesses and papers. The powers are the same as those granted to inquiries set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, under which the Bloody Sunday inquiry operates. …” [Emphasis added]

Despite the undertaking given by the government to Parliament to implement the Cory recommendation in full, the government has now enacted the Inquiries Act 2005. The provisions of that Act clearly fall far short of the Cory recommendations. Indeed Judge Cory himself has said:

“It seems to me that the proposed new Act would make a meaningful inquiry impossible. The Commissions would be working in an impossible situation. For example, the Minister, the actions of whose ministry was to be reviewed by the public inquiry would have the authority to thwart the efforts of the inquiry at every step. It really creates an intolerable Alice in Wonderland situation. There have been references in the press to an international judicial membership in the inquiry. If the new Act were to become law, I would advise all Canadian Judges to decline an appointment in light of the impossible situation they would be facing. In fact, I cannot contemplate any self-respecting Canadian Judge accepting an appointment to an inquiry constituted under the new proposed Act”.

The Chairman of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Lord Saville of Newdigate, has expressed similar concerns:

“I take the view that this provision makes a very serious inroad into the independence of any inquiry; and is likely to damage or destroy public confidence in the inquiry and its findings, especially in any case where the conduct of the authorities may be in question.

As a Judge, I must tell you that I would not be prepared to be appointed as a member of an inquiry that was subject to a provision of this kind.
I have shown the provision in question to … William Hoyt (formerly Chief Justice of the Canadian Province of New Brunswick) and John Toohey (formerly a Justice of the High Court of Australia). Both have told me that they too would not be prepared to accept appointment to an inquiry that was subject to a provision of this kind …”.

The Irish Times reported on 14 March 2005 that Lord Saville’s concerns are shared by Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

In view of these considerations I write to request that, if approached to serve on an Inquiries Act Inquiry into my husband’s murder, you, like Lord Saville and Judge Cory refuse to accept such an appointment.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

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GERALDINE FINUCANE