The pensioner daughter of a loyalist murder victim has won High Court permission to challenge delays in examining alleged serious failings in the police investigation.
Patricia Bell, 67, was granted leave to seek a judicial review of a potential 2025 completion date for a watchdog report into the circumstances surrounding her father’s death.
Patrick Murphy was shot dead on his 63rd birthday in November 1982.
He was gunned down as he served customers at his grocer’s shop on Mount Merrion Road in Belfast.
In 2004 his family lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman about how the investigation into the killing was handled.
But last autumn the current Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, revealed his budget had been reduced by around £750,000.
Due to the funding cuts the examination of historic cases was expected to be delayed by years.
Judicial review proceedings were lodged against both the Ombudsman’s Office and the Department of Justice, claiming the hold-up is unlawful and in breach of a statutory obligation to investigate.
Lawyers for Ms Bell argued that there had been failures to either prioritise the case or to provide sufficient resources for the watchdog to discharge its statutory duty within a reasonable timeframe.
Resisting the legal challenge, counsel for Justice Minister David Ford contended that the Stormont House political deal agreed last December could be a “game-changer” in reducing delays over investigating murders from Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
The court was told it will deal with any backlog and reverse funding cuts.
A new historical investigations unit (HIU) taking over responsibility for examining legacy cases is expected to be operating by next summer.
Mr Justice Treacy was also told a budget of £150 million will be made available over a five-year period.
But in court on Friday he ruled: “I have decided to grant leave (to apply for a judicial review) in respect of both respondents.”
The case will now progress to a full hearing later this year.
Outside court Ms Bell’s lawyer insisted budget cuts should not be a reason for holding up investigations into historic cases.
Ciaran Toner of Finucane Toner Solicitors said: “The delay over a murder that occurred back in 1982 is absolutely farcical.
“My clients lodged their complaint with the Police Ombudsman’s Office back in 2004, and yet they have been told that because of budgetary constraints they will have to wait for an investigative report until 2025.”