Relatives of two IRA men shot dead by SAS soldiers are to go before the UK’s highest court as part of a legal battle over inquests into the killings.

Senior judges have granted leave for lawyers representing the families of Dessie Grew and Martin McCaughey to take their case to the Supreme Court.

Their decision has been described as a major development with “profound implications” for nearly 20 inquests.

Grew, 37, and McCaughey, 23, were gunned down near Loughgall in 1990.

It is believed the building at Lislasley, County Armagh, they were killed outside had been under surveillance. Three AK47 assault rifles were found nearby afterwards.

Legal papers in the judicial review application claim four soldiers fired 72 rounds at the two men, with autopsy reports showing Grew sustained 48 wounds while McCaughey was shot by 10 bullets.

Their deaths, part of a series of shootings which led to allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy by the security forces, are to be reinvestigated by detectives from the Historical Enquiries Team.

That new probe may not be completed until the end of 2010, raising concerns that the oldest outstanding inquest in Northern Ireland could be put back further.

Lawyers for the two IRA men’s families claimed the failure to hold a prompt inquest breached their right to life under European legislation.

European Convention

They also contended that it flouted domestic law requirements for a tribunal to be set up to examine the deaths as soon as possible.

The case centred on an apparent conflict between a House of Lords ruling that the right to life has no retrospective powers prior to the Human Rights Act coming into effect in Britain in 2000, and an alternative decision of the European Court of Human Rights in a Slovenian case.

A High Court judge rejected one part of the families’ application by siding with the House of Lords interpretation.

However, dealing with the domestic law arguments, he granted leave to seek a judicial review due to the “inordinate delay” in holding an inquest.

Lawyers for the families appealed his ruling on the right to life point.

Judges in the Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed their challenge – a decision anticipated by the families’ legal representatives.

However, they were then granted leave to take the matter directly to the Supreme Court.

Solicitor Fearghal Shiels of Madden and Finucane, the firm representing the families, emphasised the importance of the outcome.

He said: “This is a highly significant development which may have profound implications not only for this inquest, but for other old inquests, numbering almost 20, where the death pre-dates the coming into force domestically of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to consider the proper legal framework within which these contentious inquests shall be conducted.”