Inquest hold-ups may be breach of international law, says coroner

Senior coroner John Leckey

Senior coroner John Leckey

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Northern Ireland’s senior coroner has warned the Government that continuing failure to adequately resource inquests into historic Troubles killings could leave it in breach of international law.

John Leckey revealed the contents of a strongly worded letter sent on his behalf to Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers as he expressed concern that inquests into nine deaths linked to an alleged security force ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy in the early 1980s may not go ahead if there is insufficient disclosure of state files.

Senior coroner John Leckey

Senior coroner John Leckey

The spectre of the inquests being abandoned provoked an angry response at Belfast Coroner’s Court from lawyers representing the families of some of the men killed, with two solicitors separately branding the possibility an “outrage”.

Mr Leckey told the court that despite stressing the need for an urgent response from Ms Villiers he had heard nothing back more than three weeks after the letter was sent.

The so-called shoot-to-kill inquests are among almost 50 outstanding legacy cases still to be dealt with by the Coroner’s Service.

While disclosure of police, Army and other state agency files have been a recurring cause of delay in many of the probes, those issues are arguably most acute in the nine deaths connected to the shoot-to-kill allegations.

The disclosure process has been running for seven years with no definitive end in sight.

Under the terms of Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights the Government has an obligation to carry out timely investigations into controversial deaths. This duty includes disclosure of material to assist a coroner.