Secretary of State accused of failings in legacy case

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has failed to advance commitments made more than six years ago to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s troubled past, the High Court heard today.

Counsel for the son of a loyalist paramilitary murder victim claimed the ongoing delay in the British Government revealing how it intends to implement the Stormont House Agreement is unjustifiable.

Fiona Doherty QC also said a pledge last year to act on the 2014 accord within 100 days was altered unilaterally.

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“This has been going on for too long, and there’s no indication what the proposals are for dealing with the legacy of the past,” she contended.

“The legal wrong is that the Government promised to deal with this, and it hasn’t.”

Judicial review proceedings have been brought against the Secretary of State by Thomas Braniff.

Mr Braniff’s 63-year-old father, David, was shot dead at the family’s home in Ardoyne, north Belfast in March 1989.

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Gunmen opened fire as the victim was kneeling in prayer with his wife, who threw herself on top of him in a bid to offer protection.

Amid suspected security force collision with the killers, only one man was ever convicted for his peripheral involvement in the attack.

The case was never reviewed by the now defunct Historical Enquiries Team, and remains in a queue at the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch.

The Braniff family are also waiting for progress on a complaint lodged with the Police Ombudsman’s Office.

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Legal action centres on the alleged failure to progress the Stormont House Agreement, signed in 2014 with commitments to new initiatives around legacy cases, including a Historical Investigations Unit to examine unsolved murders during the Troubles.

Mr Justice McFarland was told that six and a half years later, no announcement has been made on how the treaty will be put into effect.

In January 2020 the New Decade, New Approach deal negotiated by Mr Lewis’s predecessor, Julian Smith, contained a commitment to introduce legislation on the Stormont House Agreement within 100 days.

“It hasn’t been implemented, and there have been unilateral changes to it without any consultation,” Ms Doherty argued.

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“We are saying (to the Government) ‘You have to tell us what you’re going to do, it’s been too long’.”

Tony McGleenan QC, for the Secretary of State, rejected claims that he should be ordered to explain policy development in an area of “high politics”.

“These are not matters the court should scrutinise or supervise,” he said.

“Nor is there a basis for requiring information to be provided to the applicant about a policy process.”

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Questioning the prospects of the challenge ultimately succeeding, Mr McGleenan added: “No doubt this engages public interest and concern, but it’s a matter of international political character.”

Following submissions Mr Justice McFarland reserved judgment in the application for leave to seek a judicial review.

Outside court Mr Braniff’s legal representative, Setanta Marley of KRW Law, said: “This challenge is brought against a backdrop of unjustifiable delay in implementing the Stormont House Agreement.

“Hundreds of similarly affected families need some form of closure. This case will help address the ongoing justice deficit.”