I am not choosing to focus on state killings, says LCJ

Sir Declan Morgan, the lord chief justice, seen last year. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Sir Declan Morgan, the lord chief justice, seen last year. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

A political row over stalled plans to deal with legacy inquests in Northern Ireland has resulted in a “wasted year” for victims, the Province’s top judge has said.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan warned that the collapse of powersharing institutions meant the delay would now drag on even longer.

Sir Declan also said it was “not correct” to say he had chosen to give priority to Troubles cases involving the state.

Around 50 legacy cases, some relating to Troubles killings 45 years ago, have yet to be heard.

In February last year, Sir Declan proposed that a specialist unit be set up that could deal with the cases within five years.

However, politicians have yet to agree to stump up the £10 million needed to fund the process.

The money to fund the new unit will be accessed as part of a government financial package addressing a range of issues related to Northern Ireland’s past.

The suite of mechanisms to deal with the wider legacy of the Troubles is stuck in the starting blocks due to a dispute between Sinn Fein and the government on the potential of state papers being withheld from families on the grounds of national security.

While the row relates to the workings of a new historical investigations unit, the DUP have refused to sign off on funding the outstanding inquests until consensus is reached on all aspects of the package.

The DUP has insisted it would be unfair to proceed with legacy inquests, many of which focus on state killings, when investigations into paramilitary murders are on hold.

Addressing the Victims and Survivors Forum on Friday, Sir Declan said he wanted to see progress.

“Wasted time is something we can ill afford but it is as yet unclear to me when there may be a further opportunity to move forward on these matters,” he said.

The region’s top judge said any suggestion he had chosen to give priority to cases involving the state was “simply not correct”.

“My focus on legacy inquests is a direct result of the responsibilities placed on me over a year ago by the Department of Justice, when the minister decided to appoint me as President of the Coroners’ Courts,” he explained.

“I cannot ignore my statutory responsibilities but I do understand the fears and concerns of other victims and survivors, many of whom are also bitterly disappointed by the delay in achieving a political resolution on an overall legacy package.”

He added: “It would be wrong to allow the families concerned to believe that we can somehow achieve the impossible under the existing inquest process.

“If the resources I have requested are not forthcoming, we will need to make a careful assessment of what can reasonably be achieved within the limited budget we are given and under the existing inquest process.”