The Lord Chief Justice (LCJ) says he has no role in legal concerns raised by a victims coalition, after he called for the release of funding for Troubles legacy inquests.
Sir Declan Morgan this week expressed disappointment in decisions by First Minister Arlene Foster and Secretary of State James Brokenshire for declining to release funding for the hearings.
Speaking to the BBC he said the state has a legal obligation to hold 56 legacy inquests into 98 controversial Troubles-related deaths and that a failure to do so could frustrate the rule of law.
These are mostly deaths in which the victims died at the hands of state forces.
He said the Executive must address the issue urgently and affirmed calls for progress by Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson.
“I hoped that it would receive a sympathetic hearing, I was disappointed that there was no immediate response,” said Sir Declan of the first minister’s response.
He added: “All the victims and survivors need this issue to be grasped. This is the opportunity to do something about it.”
But Kenny Donaldson of victims group coalition Innocent Victims United challenged Sir Declan to address other issues of judicial concern to victims, including;-
• The Chief Constable and ACC Mark Hamilton saying that investigations directed by Director of Public Prosecutions are soaking up the majority of legacy resources.
• That hundreds of IRA members have been given On-The-Run ‘comfort’ letters from government and royal pardons.
A spokeswoman for the Lord Chief Justice responded he had no role in the matters raised by Mr Donaldson.
She said that Sir Declan’s comments “were specifically in respect of legacy inquests, for which he has been given statutory responsibility under legislation passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, and he has no locus in the other matters referred to by Mr Donaldson”.
However TUV leader Jim Allister challenged Sir Declan’s response.
“It is strictly correct that LCJ has responsibility for Inquests only, but the failure to display any empathy with the horrendous delays in victims in non-legacy cases obtaining justice was, in my view ill-judged,” he said.
“Naturally, when the public hear the LCJ speak only of the legacy inquest cases they do not differentiate on the basis that such is his area of responsibility, but, rather, wonder why he has nothing to say about hundreds of innocent victims awaiting justice for decades.
“Thus, IVU’s annoyance is understandable, though the failure largely lies in getting cases to court, not in court disposal.”