Loughinisland case: challenge against police ombudsman to be heard by another judge

Six Catholic men were killed in the Heights bar in Loughinisland in 1994
Six Catholic men were killed in the Heights bar in Loughinisland in 1994

A judge involved in a high-profile legal challenge against Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman has ruled that the case should be heard by another judge, despite finding that a legal test for him to formally withdraw had not been met.

Mr Justice McCloskey delivered a damning judgment against Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire last month, ruling that he had exceeded his statutory powers by declaring officers guilty of colluding in the Ulster Volunteer Force massacre at Loughinisland, Co Down in 1994.

The Ombudsman had asked for the judge to withdraw from the case amid claims he held a subconscious bias due to his involvement, as a barrister, in another case involving a challenge against the police watchdog in 2002.

The judge was scathing of the recusal application, insisting it had fallen well short of the legal test required.

However, he then offered to effectively pass the case to another judge as he said there was a need to ensure the Loughinisland families had confidence in the region’s legal system.

Justice McCloskey said his decision represented an “unprecedented ruling”.

“Following anxious reflection, my evaluative conclusion is that our legal system will not have served the families well if they are not given the opportunity of having this case heard by a differently constituted court,” he told Belfast High Court.

In a landmark 2016 report, Dr Maguire found that Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers colluded in the UVF gun attack in the village of Loughinisland.

Two loyalist gunmen burst into the Heights Bar and opened fire on locals watching the Republic of Ireland play Italy in the World Cup in the United States.

Six Catholic men were killed, five others were injured.

Two retired officers took judicial review proceedings against the Ombudsman’s findings and judge McCloskey found in their favour in December.

He has now declined to complete his judgment in respect of whether the Ombudsman’s report should be formally quashed.

The judge said his judgment was not binding on another court and instead should be viewed as “advisory”.