Judgment was reserved on Thursday in a major legal challenge to the disclosure of secret reports into alleged shoot-to-kill cases in Northern Ireland.
The Chief Constable is seeking to judicially review senior coroner John Leckey’s direction for the handing over of edited, or “redacted”, versions of the probes into a series of controversial Royal Ulster Constabulary shootings 28 years ago.
Police insist the reports should not be disclosed, and then forwarded to next of kin, without the coroner first ruling on the relevance of the papers.
Lawyers for the Chief Constable want Mr Leckey’s determination quashed, arguing that it would impede applications for any Public Interest Immunity certificates.
The case involves six people, including IRA men, INLA suspects and a Catholic teenager, who were shot dead around Lurgan and Armagh in 1982.
An investigation into whether police planned to kill them was carried out by former Greater Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker and Sir Colin Sampson of the West Yorkshire Police.
The Stalker/Sampson reports have never been made public.
The coroner’s probe has also widened to include the deaths of three RUC officers killed by an IRA landmine the same year.
With police emphasising the volume of material and complex issues involved, deadlines set for handing over the material have not been met.
Gerry Simpson QC, for the Chief Constable, told the High Court on Thursday the case involves “legacy inquests” where the cause of death related to security force actions.
He said: “The result of that is there are always going to be considerations of Public Interest Immunity in the course of these inquests, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the material.”
Mr Simpson argued that all documents should be supplied to the Coroner.
“We say it is then for the Coroner to examine that material and decide what is relevant to the scope of the inquest,” he added.
“The scope of that inquest is a moveable feast. It’s up to the coroner to decide the extent of the inquest he will undertake.”
During his submissions Mr Justice Gillen questioned why next of kin should have to make representations about the scope of the tribunal without having seen the papers.
The judge likened it to them having “one hand tied behind their back”.
But Mr Simpson insisted that even when the scope was agreed on it was not decided “once and for all”.
The government has consistently denied any shoot-to-kill policy existed.
Confidential reports are said to contain significant information that was not available when an original inquest into the deaths was held in 1983.
Lawyers for the victims’ relatives told the court their human rights were being violated by the delay in holding inquests.
Following Mr Justice Gillen’s decision to reserve his ruling, a solicitor representing the McKerr, Toman and Burns families claimed the Chief Constable’s legal challenge was misconceived.
Fearghal Shiels of Madden and Finucane said: “The procedure proposed by the Coroner permits the families to have a meaningful input into the process, enhancing the transparency, integrity and efficacy of the inquest.”