Finucane inquiry legislation denounced

27/11/2004 - 09:43:42

New legislation for an inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane could be used to suppress the truth in all future public inquiries, it was claimed today.

Jane Winter, the director of the human rights organisation British Irish Rights Watch, denounced a draft Bill which will dictate the terms for the inquiry into security force collusion in the 1989 murder of Mr Finucane by loyalists.

She claimed the Bill could be used by the British government to hide from the public for 30 years facts about the solicitor’s murder, other controversial Northern Ireland killings or inquiries into Iraq or national tragedies.

“We’re really concerned about this legislation,” she said. “At the moment the Prime Minister establishes public inquiries under the 1921 Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act which was used to set up the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

“That gives an independent judge the right to look into a matter of urgent public importance and allows the judge to call the shots.

“Under this draft Bill, a government minister will now call the shots in all sorts of ways. Transcripts of inquiry hearings which take place behind closed doors can be withheld from the public for 30 years under special ministerial powers.

“That effectively means the people most closely concerned in a case like the Finucane family’s or indeed who lose relatives in, let us say, a stadium disaster could be dead before information from the inquiry becomes public.”

Pat Finucane was gunned down in front of his family in his north Belfast home in February 1989.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens has headed an investigation into the murder and believes members of British Army intelligence and the Royal Ulster Constabulary colluded in the murder which was carried out by the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Retired Canadian judge Peter Cory, who was appointed by the Irish and British governments at the 2001 Weston Park talks to examine six controversial murders in Northern Ireland, ruled there should be an inquiry into Mr Finucane’s killing.

In September, loyalist Ken Barrett received a life sentence after he admitted he had a role in the shooting.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy subsequently moved to set up an inquiry into the Finucane case but felt special legislation was needed because it would have to deal with sensitive matters of national security.

Following the publication of the Bill last night, the family of Pat Finucane warned they would not participate in any tribunal set up under the terms the British government was proposing.

SDLP Assembly member Alex Attwood also denounced the draft Bill.

However the Northern Ireland Office denied claims that the draft Bill departed from the type of inquiry envisaged by Judge Cory and insisted no information could be withheld from the tribunal.

Ms Winter said she was worried the legislation could be used to dictate the terms for other inquiries recommended by Judge Cory into controversial murders in the North.

“The inquiries into the murders of Robert Hamill and Rosemary Nelson were called under the Police Act,” she said. “Billy Wright’s inquiry has been called under the Prisons Act.

"But this legislation would enable ministers to convert inquiries set up under other Acts to the terms set out in this Bill. I really hope that doesn’t happen.

“We will be lobbying MPs to realise what is going on because this has wider implications than for just the Finucane Inquiry or the other inquiries. This could be used in future to keep from the public the sort of information which emerged in the Hutton inquiry.

“I also think at a time when the UK government has been told by the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva that it must find a way of dealing with allegations of state murder in Northern Ireland, this draft Bill will not go down well in the UN or in the United States Congress.”

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