Legacy inquests being ‘sabotaged’ by lack of resources, lawyer representing Troubles bereaved says

Patricia Coyle says it is ‘scandalous’ UK ministry of defence appears to be ‘deliberately under-resourcing a particular job’

The UK ministry of defence is “sabotaging” legacy inquests by failing to provide sufficient resourcing, according to a lawyer representing families bereaved during the Troubles.

Patricia Coyle said she agreed with comments from former northern secretary Peter Hain in the House of Lords on Tuesday. He said “state bodies appear to be openly running down the clock to May 1st, when the due process that we set such store by in the United Kingdom will no longer apply in Northern Ireland, thanks to the shameful Legacy Act”.

Lord Hain said an “abject failure by the state officials and agencies to produce the necessary files in anything like a timely fashion continues despite the relevant state bodies being directed to do so”.

In a statement, the UK government said it “continues to assist Northern Ireland courts in good faith in relation to legacy matters” and “encourages stakeholders such as Lord Hain to engage directly with the independent commission to better understand its plans for implementation”.


Under the new legislation, all legacy inquests which are not completed by May 1st must transfer to the new investigative body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Informaton Recovery (ICRIR). A number have not been listed and it is expected others will not be heard by the cut-off date.

Last month, the coroner in the inquest into the death of Patrick Duffy, a 50-year-old father-of-six who was shot dead by an undercover British army unit in Derry in 1978, said the hearing could not be completed by May 1st because the ministry of defence could not provide discovery of sensitive material in time.

A witness for the ministry told a review hearing that it only had one person dealing with sensitive materials for all Troubles-era inquests involving British army personnel.

Ms Coyle, who represents the Duffy family, said it was “quite incredible” and “scandalous” that a “state agency, with access to millions of pounds of resources, appears to be deliberately under-resourcing a particular job”. She said the inquest was granted in 2019 so the ministry had “known for a very long time this work was required” and there had been “ample” time to complete it.

“It’s a single death, it’s an undercover – we believe SAS – unit, and it’s a man who was not armed at the point he was killed… This is effectively a three-witness case, yet the ministry of defence, with all its resources, cannot complete this before May to allow this inquest to continue.”

The Duffy family has taken a judicial review challenge against the ministry, which is due to be heard later this month. It has been joined by two other cases where inquests have been granted which are also understood to involve special units of the British army.

The UK government’s controversial Legacy Act is facing a number of legal challenges, including an inter-state case taken by the Irish Government and cases lodged by bereaved families at the European Court of Human Rights, and a judgment is awaited in a domestic challenge in Belfast.

The Legacy Act replaces current methods of criminal and civil investigations and inquests with inquiries carried out by the ICRIR and offers conditional amnesties for perpetrators.

On Wednesday, the victims and survivors group Ulster Human Rights Watch said it would ask the ICRIR to investigate the killing of eight Protestant workmen when the van they were travelling in was blown up by the IRA in Teebane, Co Tyrone, in 1992.

In its statement on Wednesday, the UK government said the ICRIR was “supported by a legislative requirement of full disclosure by state bodies, and the power to compel witnesses to comply with its reviews.

“It will also be able to make findings – made public via a report – in a manner similar to an inquest.

“The Act contains provisions allowing a coroner to request a review of a death by the independent commission, led by Sir Declan Morgan as chief commissioner, if the inquest has not been concluded via the coronial process by May 1st, 2024.

“It is now working at pace to become fully operational, and in November 2023 published a paper regarding ideas for how it could approach investigations linked to advanced-stage inquests.”

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times