Sunday Life

NIO difficulty in hunt for probe judges

14 November 2004

The Northern Ireland Office is having major difficulty finding judges willing to head public inquiries into three controversial Ulster murders.

Stormont sources say that following the marathon Saville Inquiry into 'Bloody Sunday', senior judges appear reluctant to commit themselves to chairing Northern Ireland cases.

It is understood the NIO may now have to look outside the British judicial system, to recruit judges to chair inquiries into the murders of Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright.

"Suitably qualified individuals within the British judicial system are reluctant to take on what, after all, will be extremely controversial inquiries," said one informed Stormont source.

It is not just the 'Bloody Sunday' inquiry, but the fierce criticisms of Hutton that has made senior judges wary, the source suggested.

The NIO confirmed judges had yet to be appointed to any of the three inquiries.

"Judges have not yet been appointed, but it is hoped a firm announcement will be made shortly," a spokesperson said.

"The NIO has been in contact with the families regarding a number of issues."

Meanwhile, the European Commissioner on Human Rights has met the families of three victims during a two-day fact finding visit to Belfast.

Senor Alvaro Sil-Robles held separate meetings with each of the families at Belfast's Europa Hotel, last Monday night.

It is understood the families expressed anger at the delay in setting up any of the three inquiries, and complained they were being excluded them from discussions on the inquiries' terms of reference.

Yesterday, the father of Billy Wright described his meeting with Senor Sil-Robles as "useful".

David Wright said: "The Commissioner said the families had the right to a transparent process.

"It was also his view that the families cannot be excluded from parts of the inquiry, which may be held in camera."

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