At least 16 Northern Ireland Troubles inquests to fall short of Legacy Act deadline News
Lasse1974, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
At least 16 Northern Ireland Troubles inquests to fall short of Legacy Act deadline

At least sixteen inquests into deaths that occurred during the Northern Ireland Troubles will not be completed by the deadline set out in the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023, according to reports by the Irish Times. The controversial Act requires that any Troubles-related inquests (a fact-finding investigation into the cause of an individual’s death) must be concluded by May 1st, 2024.

The news outlet reported Saturday that figures they obtained from the Lady Chief Justice’s office reveal that there are 26 other inquests that may also fall outside of the deadline when completed. Under the Act, any ongoing inquests by May 1st cannot be completed and a coroner “must not progress the conduct of the inquest” and must instead close the investigation. The Act provides for one exception to this rule, that being inquests where “the only part of the inquest that remains to be carried out is the coroner or any jury making or giving the final determination, verdict or findings.” However, not all of these active inquests will be impacted by the Legacy Act, as 7 of the deaths occurred outside of the time period the Act defines as The Troubles.

The Legacy Act intends to “address the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles and promote reconciliation.” It tries to achieve this goal by creating an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), which will limit criminal investigations, legal proceedings, inquests and police complaints into events that happened during the Troubles. It also extends the prisoner release scheme.

In a recent written questioning, the House of Lords was asked to estimate how many inquests into Troubles-related deaths would not have been completed by May 1st. Conservative peer Lord Caine did not give a specific statistic, but clarified that:

The Act contains provisions allowing a coroner to request a review of a death by the ICRIR . . . if the inquest has not been concluded via the coronial process by 1 May 2024. Close family members, as well as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland and the Advocate General for Northern Ireland, can also request a review of a death by the ICRIR.

The Legacy Act has garnered wide criticism from the UN and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The UK government has refused to adhere to the advice of the ECHR, stating in a report that while “some aspects of the Act are uncomfortable,” they must be “realistic” and “do things differently” in order “to provide greater information, accountability and acknowledgement to victims and families.” Despite this persistence, the government of Ireland launched an application with the ECHR in January to challenge the Act’s compliance with human rights.

The Troubles were a decades-long violent conflict between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland who duelled over the region’s status as part of the UK. It came to an end with the Good Friday Agreement, which created a system of shared governance.