UK government appeal against Troubles Legacy Act ruling will not be decided before autumn

Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan has pledged to deliver a ruling as soon as possible

Northern Ireland Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The UK government’s appeal against a ruling that parts of its controversial new Troubles Legacy Act are unlawful will not be decided before the autumn, Northern Ireland’s most senior judge confirmed on Monday.

Lawyers representing the Northern Ireland Office are challenging a finding that the plans to offer conditional immunities from prosecution and shut down civil actions related to three decades of conflict in the region breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Reserving judgment following a five-day hearing at the Court of Appeal, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan pledged to deliver a ruling as soon as possible.

“It won’t be before the start of term in September, and I’m not going to give any guarantees when it will be,” she said.


The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act, which came into effect last September, includes potential amnesties for those accused of terrorist-related killings and serious crime during more than 30 years of sectarian violence.

It also brought a halt to civil litigation and inquests not completed by the cut-off date of May 1st.

The fiercely opposed new legislation involved the establishment of an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) where self-confessed perpetrators who fully co-operate with the legacy body may obtain immunity.

The UK government has described it as an attempt to draw a line under Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

But amid widespread opposition to the Act from victims’ organisations, political parties and the Irish Government, legal action was taken by some of those who lost loved ones or were injured in the conflict.

In February, the High Court ruled that the potential granting of immunity violates the ECHR.

A judge also declared that sections of the legislation shutting down Troubles-related civil actions and prohibiting new claims is incompatible with Article 6 of the Convention and the Windsor Framework.

The UK government has appealed in a bid to have those findings overturned.

Senior counsel for the Secretary of State argued that the Act is a parliamentary-endorsed attempt to achieve reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

He also insisted that terrorist murderers freed early during the peace process face being returned to serve life in prison if they lie to obtain amnesties.

In a legal battle ultimately expected to reach the Supreme Court, proceedings issued by Martina Dillon, John McEvoy and Lynda McManus were among the lead cases.

Ms Dillon’s 45-year-old husband, Seamus, was shot dead in a loyalist attack at the Glengannon Hotel in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in 1997.

Mr McEvoy survived a loyalist shooting on the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo, Co Down, in 1992 which claimed the life of 42-year-old Peter McCormack.

Ms McManus’s father, James, was among those wounded in the Sean Graham bookmakers massacre earlier in the same year.

Five people were murdered when loyalist gunmen opened fire inside the betting shop on the Ormeau Road in south Belfast.

Legal action was also taken by the mother of IRA man Pearse Jordan, who was shot dead by an RUC officer as he fled from a hijacked car on Belfast’s Falls Road in November 1992.

With two members of the police force reported to prosecutors for suspected perjury and perverting the course of justice offences, the Act would prevent them from facing potential charges or trial.

During the appeal lawyers representing the victims’ relatives described the legislation as an unlawful attempt to “dismantle” the justice system in Northern Ireland.