More than 30 legal actions taken by families against UK over ‘shameful’ Legacy Act

Act replaces criminal and civil investigations and inquests with inquiries carried out by new investigative body

More than 30 challenges to the UK government’s controversial Legacy Act have been lodged at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on behalf of families bereaved by the Troubles.

Belfast solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh, who has submitted nine applications, said this was a “start” and he expects more will follow. “We could be lodging another 10 at least,” he said.

Other prominent legal firms are understood to have also filed applications, including 14 by Harte Coyle Collins, seven by Madden and Finucane and three by KRW Law.

Last week the Irish Government lodged an interstate case against the UK at the ECHR, arguing the British legislation is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.


The Legacy Act replaces current methods of criminal and civil investigations and inquests with inquiries carried out by a new investigative body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, and offers conditional amnesties for perpetrators.

The UK government said it offers better outcomes for victims and survivors and is “confident” the Act meets its international human rights obligations.

The applications lodged by Mr Ó Muirigh have been submitted on behalf of, among others, the families of three of the victims of the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre, two people shot dead in Springhill in west Belfast in 1972, and Daniel Rooney and Patrick McVeigh, who were killed by the undercover British army unit the Military Reaction Force, also in 1972.

“We are arguing that the Legacy Act breaches European Convention rights,” said Mr Ó Muirigh. “Article 2 is the main one, where people have a right to a proper, independent investigation, and obviously those that haven’t had an inquest haven’t had this. The other challenge is to the immunity provisions, which are again a breach of convention rights in that these would stop potential future prosecutions.”

Under the new legislation, all Troubles-related inquests must conclude by May 1st. Those of about 80 people remain outstanding and it is expected most will not be heard by the cut-off date — including those of Rooney and McVeigh.

Mr Ó Muirigh said some of the Ballymurphy inquest findings, “in particular the deaths of Father Mullan, Frank Quinn and Edward Doherty, there was potential [for prosecution] — well, we know Edward Doherty’s shooters, for want of a better term, who if this legislation wasn’t in place, could be at a future date subject to a prosecution decision.”

Sara Duddy from the Pat Finucane Centre, which supports victims and survivors of the Troubles, said the UK government’s “shameful” Legacy Act “violates the rights of victims and survivors and only seeks to protect the perpetrators of violence. We will support the scores of families who have brought their cases to ECHR,” she said.

Ms Duddy added that the centre also welcomed the interstate case and would “continue to support families fighting this legislation in the domestic courts in their pursuit of truth and justice”.

A legal challenge to the Act has been heard in the High Court in Belfast and a judgment is expected soon.

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times