Fearghál Shiels
Fearghál ShielsDirector
Fearghal is a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast and joined Madden & Finucane in 1998, working extensively at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, where Madden & Finucane represented ten of the families of those murdered and several of the Wounded. He was responsible for drafting extensive submissions on behalf of Madden & Finucane’s clients to the Inquiry and following the publication of the Saville Report in 2010, Fearghal prepared written submissions to the Public Prosecution Service seeking the criminal prosecutions of those members of the British Army responsible for the murders and attempted murders committed on Bloody Sunday, and to the Crown Prosecution Service in London in respect of the perjured evidence given on oath by many former British soldiers to the Inquiry whilst it took evidence there. He is presently involved in challenging decisions announced in September 2020 not to prosecute several soldiers for murder and attempted murder and leads the Madden & Finucane civil litigation team which to date has secured awards against the Ministry of Defence in excess of £2.5 million pounds for the victims of Bloody Sunday.

Fearghal’s specific expertise lies in the area of Public and Administrative Law, particularly applications for judicial review of decisions of public authorities, notably the Secretary of State for NI, Chief Constable of the PSNI, NI Prison Service, Coroners Service for Northern Ireland, Department of Justice, NIO, Education and Library Boards, and Health and Social Services Trusts.

He successfully represented two of three appellants before the Court of Appeal in 2013 in the case of Bernard Fox & Others v PSNI [2013] NICA 19, which challenged arbitrary abuse by the PSNI of Stop and Search powers, and secured tens of thousands of pounds in subsequent compensation claims against the PSNI concerning unlawful detention. Amendments to this legislation passed immediately after the Fox judgment to make PSNI more accountable and were again immediately challenged, culminating in a successful appeal before the Court of Appeal in Ramsey’s Application [2020] NICA 14. Fearghal is also currently pursuing a legal challenge to the application of these powers by the PSNI against children, and challenges to new legislation under the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which assert incompatibility between the existing domestic legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights. A full hearing will take place in December 2020.

Fearghal has also represented life sentence prisoners in proceedings before the Parole Commissioners and the Parole Board of England and Wales, at hearings concerning prisoner release, and legal challenges arising from decisions of those bodies. In 2013, Fearghal achieved a landmark decision at the Supreme Court UK in London, securing the unanimous approval of senior judges by utilising the European Convention on Human Rights to secure oral hearings before the Parole Board for post tariff life sentence prisoners.

He has also advised prisoners seeking repatriation to Ireland from prisons in England, mainland Europe and the USA, and prisoners released on license under the Good Friday Agreement who have subsequently been recalled to prison, as well as republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison and jails throughout Ireland. He has taken cases to the High Court in Belfast and ultimately to the European Court of Human Rights for republican political prisoners arising out punitive sanctions imposed by the Northern Ireland Prison Service for prisoners wearing a commemorative Easter lily.

Fearghal also has made successful applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission on behalf of former political prisoners, having unsafe convictions referred to the Court of Appeal. He has secured substantial six figure awards of compensation for proven victims of miscarriage of justice. In May 2020, he secured the acquittal of a defendant who was convicted in 1983 of the murder of the deputy Prison Governor of the Maze Prison in 1978 in the case of R v Artt [2020] NICA 28.

Fearghal’s special interest however lies in representing families bereaved by State violence at controversial inquests, inquiries, investigations, and associated litigation. He has spearheaded complex challenges before the House of Lords and Supreme Court which have defined the obligations on the State in terms of the scope of Coroner’s inquests following the use of lethal force by the RUC and British Army, and the extent of the obligations on the Chief Constable of the Police Service to provide full and complete disclosure to Coroners inquiring into controversial deaths, culminating in the re-opening of long abandoned inquests into the deaths of several civilians in Lurgan and Armagh at the hands of the RUC in 1982, (known as the “Stalker Sampson Cases”) and the release of top secret reports into those incidents by Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire Police to the bereaved families. These challenges have re-defined the parameters for inquests at which the State shall be forced to account for the deaths of civilians and shall be the legal framework upon which dozens of outstanding “legacy inquests” shall proceed.

Fearghal was the lead solicitor at the first Inquests in which members of the British Army and RUC directly responsible for the use of lethal force were compelled to give evidence, and in high profile legal proceedings challenging flaws and decisions taken at inquests held in 2012 touching the deaths of Martin McCaughey and Dessie Grew, killed in 1990, and Pearse Jordan killed in 1992.

Fearghal has frequently represented applicants in successful judicial reviews before the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland and has unparalleled experience in this jurisdiction in successfully bringing cases to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (formerly the House of Lords) and against the British Government at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, securing violations of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights by the British Government in the cases of Brecknell v UK; O’Dowd v UK; Reavey v UK; McCartney v UK and McGrath v UK; McCaughey, Grew & Quinn v UK.

Fearghal has also successfully pioneered the use of applications to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland to establish new inquests into the deaths of civilians at the hands of the RUC and British Army, achieving fresh inquests into the deaths of Sergeant Joseph Campbell, Gerard Casey (murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in collusion with the RUC); Danny Doherty, William Fleming and Francis Bradley (murdered by the SAS in the 1980s); and Kathleen Thompson and Leo Norney murdered by the British Army in Derry and Belfast in the 1970s.

Fearghal is also closely assisting Peter Madden in the legal challenge to the continuing refusal of the British Government to establish an independent public and judicial inquiry into the murder of our founding partner, Patrick Finucane in 1989. In February 2019, the Supreme Court of the UK unanimously quashed decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal which had upheld that ineffective paper reviews of the circumstances were effective and satisfied the British Government’s international legal obligations.