Investigators are to be appointed to help a revamped coroners’ service in Northern Ireland deliver legacy inquests, an official said.
Senior judges are to adopt the most complex cases, the Department of Justice added, which have been bogged down in years of legal wrangling.
The Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) which will investigate Troubles killings will also help deliver information to the overhauled service, according to senior civil servant Brian Grzymek, which had been perceived as the “poor cousin” of the judicial system.
“The Courts Service has been under-resourced in that area and consequently the coroners have not had sufficient support to progress and manage the case load in a way which actually increases efficiency.
“The Courts Service is looking at putting some additional resources into that to provide a fuller and more effective coronial support service.”
Changes will include:
:: A higher tier of judges taking on more complex cases legacy inquests.
:: Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan leading the service independently from government.
:: The appointment of investigators to work on major cases for coroners.
:: The HIU supplying information to help give families answers.
Mr Grzymek said: “It should build the effectiveness of the information going to the coroner’s service which negates the need for additional investigation.”
He acknowledged families have been waiting a long time for important cases to be heard but the number of legacy inquests in comparison to the case load which HIU will inherit is small.
Officials want to ensure the demand for legacy inquests does not impede the investigation into 1,000 other deaths planned by the HIU. But the hope is the HIU involvement would allow coroners to do their job more quickly.
Around 85 legacy deaths await inquests, many delayed by lack of funding to provide investigators.
The sectarian Kingsmill killing of 10 Protestant workmen by the IRA in County Armagh in 1976 is one of the cases which has been stalled.
Others include the so-called shoot-to-kill deaths of republicans at the hands of the security services and murders carried out by the “Glenanne Gang” of loyalists.
Mr Grzymek accepted that appointing coroners’ investigators made good sense.
“We are looking for an early recruitment of some people to discharge that role.”