Geraldine Finucane, the widow of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane
The widow of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane is to seek damages against the UK government for remaining in breach of a legal obligation to carry out an investigation into his murder, the High Court heard today.
A judge was also told that Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris will provide a timeframe next week for taking a new decision on whether to order a public inquiry.
The developments came in a challenge by the lawyer’s family to an ongoing failure to establish such a probe.
Mr Finucane, 39, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitary gunmen in front of his wife Geraldine and three children at their north Belfast home in February 1989.
His family have campaigned ever since for a public inquiry to establish the full scale of security force collusion in one of the most notorious assassinations during the Troubles.
In 2019 the UK Supreme Court declared that previous investigations into the killing failed to meet standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Since then, Mrs Finucane has mounted further legal battles over the Government’s response to that finding.
In November 2020, former Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced there would not be a public inquiry at this stage because he wanted other police review processes to run their course. He was ordered then to pay £7,500 damages to Mrs Finucane for the excessive delay in reaching that position.
The current challenge centred on the legality of that decision to await the outcome of reviews by the PSNI’s Legacy Investigations Branch and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).
Last month, a High Court judge ruled that the Government remains in breach of Article 2 by the ongoing delay in completing a probe which meets those legal requirements.
Mr Justice Scoffield quashed the decision not to establish a public inquiry at this stage, and held that Mr Lewis unlawfully failed to reconsider that position following the conclusion of a police review process.
He directed that a fresh decision must now be taken on how to address the continued investigative deficiencies within a set timeframe.
The judge said Mrs Finucane found herself “in a sorry situation” nearly four years after the Supreme Court’s declaration.
Ordering the current Secretary of State to reconsider the Government’s response to those findings, he set out the need for a fresh decision on holding a public inquiry with full reasons provided.
At a further hearing today, Mrs Finucane’s barrister confirmed she will be seeking costs for her legal action.
Fiona Doherty KC added: “It is our submission that the applicant is entitled to damages.”
Counsel for Mr Heaton-Harris, Paul McLaughlin KC, said a final position has not yet been reached on the proposed timescale for a decision.
“Part of any decision of this nature which may involve a public inquiry involves consultation with the Prime Minister and across government,” Mr McLaughlin said.
“It is expected that we will have that early next week.”