1355th meeting, 23-25 September 2019 (DH) – H46-29 McKerr group v. the United Kingdom (Application No. 28883/95)

Decisions

The Deputies

1. recalled that this group of cases concerns the effectiveness of investigations into the deaths of the applicants’ next-of-kin in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, either during security force operations or in circumstances giving rise to suspicions of collusion with those forces;

As regards individual measures

2. recalled with profound regret that the iAnvestigations and related litigation in the cases of McKerr, Shanaghan, Jordan, Kelly and Others and McCaughey and Others have still not been completed;

3. recalled also the Committee’s decision in relation to the Finucane case to resume consideration of the applicant’s request to reopen its supervision of the individual measures once the domestic litigation had concluded; noted in that regard the Supreme Court judgment of 27 February 2019, which found that an Article 2-compliant inquiry into Mr Finucane’s death has not yet taken place;

4. called on the authorities to submit concrete information by 1 December 2019 on how they intend to conduct an Article 2-compliant investigation into Mr Finucane’s death in light of the findings of the Supreme Court; and decided to examine the applicant’s request for reopening, in light of that information, at their March 2020 DH meeting;

As regards general measures

i) Historical Investigations Unit

5. reiterated their serious concerns about the delay in the establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and other legacy institutions and underlined that, notwithstanding the broader political picture, it is imperative that the authorities ensure that effective Convention-compliant investigations can be conducted, particularly in light of the length of time that has already passed since these judgments became final and since the Stormont House Agreement providing for the HIU and other legacy institutions was concluded in 2014;

6. noted with interest, in this context, the publication of a summary of the responses from multiple stakeholders, including victims’ groups and civil society organisations, to the public consultation on the draft legislation required to establish the legacy institutions; noted further with satisfaction the authorities’ indication that they remain fully committed to the establishment of those institutions and the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement of 2014 and that the approach must be consistent with the rule of law and international legal obligations;

7. noted with regret however that there is no clear indication of the next steps envisaged; strongly encouraged the authorities to provide an estimated timetable for the introduction of amended legislation to Parliament and to ensure that it will guarantee the HIU’s independence in both law and practice and enable it to conduct effective investigations which are sufficiently accessible to the victims’ families in full compliance with Article 2 of the Convention;

ii) Legacy inquests

8. strongly encouraged the authorities to ensure that the funding announced by the Northern Ireland Department of Justice in February 2019 is released rapidly to ensure the reform of the legacy inquest system, including the establishment and full operation of the Legacy Inquest Unit, in accordance with the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland’s proposals so that legacy inquests, including those pending for the individual applicants in these cases, can be concluded without further delay;

9. invited the authorities to submit information on the measures taken to ensure that all statutory agencies, including in particular the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Ministry of Defence, comply with their legal obligation to disclose relevant information to the Coroners’ Service to ensure inquests can proceed promptly;

iii) Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

10. recalled that, pending the establishment of the HIU, the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland continues to play a vital role in investigating historical cases and giving answers to families; strongly encouraged the authorities to take all necessary measures, including the provision of resources, to ensure that the Police Ombudsman can effectively conduct legacy investigations in a timely manner in compliance with Article 2; invited in this context the authorities to provide more details as to the ongoing independent review by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland into the methods used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to disclose information in respect of historic cases to the Police Ombudsman further to the announcement on 14 February 2019 of the discovery of significant police documentation of relevance for legacy investigations of the Ombudsman, including in respect of the Shanaghan case; and looked forward to the outcome of this review;

11. decided to resume consideration of the progress made in these cases at their DH meeting in March 2020.