Campaigner Raymond McCord says ‘fight goes on’ after Brexit strategy legal challenge dismissed

Raymond McCord
Raymond McCord
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A Northern Ireland victims’ campaigner has vowed to fight to be heard in the Supreme Court after his High Court challenge against the Government’s Brexit strategy was dismissed.

Raymond McCord faces a more complicated journey to the UK’s highest court than the recent Scottish and English Brexit-related cases, which are due to be heard in London next week.

Mr McCord, whose son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997, and two other applicants had argued that a no-deal Brexit would damage the Northern Ireland peace process.

On Thursday, Lord Justice Bernard McCloskey dismissed the trio of challenges, which were heard as one case in Belfast High Court, insisting the issues raised by all three touched on political matters that the courts should not intervene on.

In an extremely unusual move, three Appeal Court judges sat within minutes of the High Court ruling, as lawyers raced against time to try to secure a route to the Supreme Court.

“The fight goes on,” Mr McCord said outside court.

“All being well, we will be sitting in the Supreme Court in London next week.”

Mr McCord wants to have his case heard in the Supreme Court, but he faces a number of hurdles.

Unlike the English and Scottish cases, he does not have the option of leapfrogging straight to the Supreme Court, and must first be heard by the Court of Appeal in Belfast.

Another complicating factor is the fact the Supreme Court has made clear it will only hear arguments on the prorogation of Parliament next week.

Lord Justice McCloskey had decided not to consider the prorogation issue when hearing the Northern Ireland Brexit challenges, because the matter was already being ventilated in the Scottish and English cases.

While the other two Northern Ireland applicants are aiming for another Supreme Court sitting date, when the court could potentially consider their concerns about a no-deal Brexit, Mr McCord’s lawyers want to be part of the cases focusing on prorogation next week.

They are now set to challenge Lord Justice McCloskey’s decision not to consider the prorogation issue in the Appeal Court.

A hearing has been listed for Friday morning.

Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, one of the three Appeal Court judges who sat on Thursday, noted that Mr McCord could also seek to intervene in the Scottish and English cases as an “interested party”, rather than a full party.

He said that could be another way to have points related to the region aired in the Supreme Court next week.

The judge said he and his colleagues were aware of the desire to have the matters ventilated in the UK’s highest court and pledged to devote the time needed to dispense with any appeal expeditiously.

“We can well understand your anxiety to be there,” he said of the Supreme Court.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that you get a good opportunity.”

Another road to the Supreme Court could be by way of referral, either by the Appeal Court judges or Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, on the grounds that prorogation was a “devolution issue” that had a specific impact on the region.

All the options are anticipated to be discussed at Friday’s Court of Appeal hearing.

The three challenges heard in Belfast High Court over two days of legal submissions focused on various claims about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

The applicants argued a disorderly exit would undermine agreements involving the UK and Irish governments that were struck during the peace process and damage cross-border co-operation between the two nations.

Delivering his ruling, Lord Justice McCloskey said it was not an issue for the courts to intervene on.

“I consider the characterisation of the subject matter of these proceedings as inherently and unmistakably political to be beyond plausible dispute,” he said.

“Virtually all of the assembled evidence belongs to the world of politics, both national and supra-national.

“Within the world of politics, the well-recognised phenomena of claim and counter-claim, assertion and counter-assertion, allegation and denial, blow and counter-blow, alteration and modification of government policy, public statements, unpublished deliberations, posturing, strategy and tactics are the very essence of what is both countenanced and permitted in a democratic society.”

Outside court after the High Court judgment was handed down, Mr McCord expressed his disappointment.

“They referred to political reasons in the court this morning,” he said.

“I am not a political person, I have no interest in political parties here because they have failed the victims here.

“This is for all the people. This isn’t for somebody who votes unionist or nationalist, this is for the benefit of all the people.”

Mr McCord’s solicitor Ciaran O’Hare said it was important the case was heard in the Supreme Court.

“These are significant issues,” he said.

“It’s basically uncharted territory and we believe that, not just for Mr McCord, but for all the people of Northern Ireland, that this is an exceptionally important case.”