THE quango which was last week savaged by the House of Lords for wasting its time on a court case against the police last night refused to rule out spending more public money on another court challenge.
The case supported by the Human Rights Commission claimed that the 2001 policing of the Holy Cross dispute – a security operation which cost millions and involved several hundred officers daily – failed to adequately protect pupils' human rights.
The commission also admitted that it did not know how much public money it has spent on the case, but claimed that it had been "the most cost-effective way" of clarifying a point of law.
The Holy Cross case, brought by a parent of one of the schoolchildren and backed by the commission, was rejected by the House of Lords last week, but the parent's solicitor has said that they are considering appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.
Asked yesterday whether it would financially back such a move, a spokeswoman for the NIO quango said: "The commission is still reviewing the judgment and will discuss this at a forthcoming board meeting."
She added that it was "the mother, and her solicitor's decision" as to whether they would reject the Lords' ruling and appeal to the European court.
"The Human Rights Commission awaits confirmation of our total costs in this case. We are therefore not in a position to release the expenditure at this point," she said.
"However, we will be happy to do this as soon as the information is available."
Despite five Law Lords unanimously finding against the appeal – previously dismissed in the Belfast High Court and the Court of Appeal – and withering criticism of its role in the case from one of the Law Lords, the commission has focussed on one legal argument put forward by it and accepted by the Lords.
In a press release about the Lords' judgment, the commission did not state that the Lords had completely rejected its criticisms of the police, some of whom were injured while trying to protect the children.
Instead it focussed on the Lords' decision that the Court of Appeal had wrongly used the R v Ministry of Defence, Exp p smith (1996) legal test.
In his judgment last week, Lord Carswell said the RUC's actions at Holy Cross – when officers "placed themselves as a shield between a hostile and dangerous crowd and a small group of vulnerable people" – ultimately helped resolve the situation.
And, attacking the commission's role in the court case, Lord Hoffmann said: "An intervention is of no assistance if it merely repeats points which the appellant (mother] or respondent (RUC/the Crown] has already made.
"I am bound to say that in this appeal the oral submissions on behalf of the commission only repeated in rather more emphatic terms the points which had already been quite adequately argued by counsel for the appellant.
"In future I hope that interveners will avoid unnecessarily taking up the time of the House in this way."