Legal battle to compel British government to put policy for holding border poll in place is lost

Lawyers for Raymond McCord claimed current criteria for calling referendum on Irish unity lacks transparency

Raymond McCord did not mount the case in a bid to secure a referendum. File photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

Raymond McCord did not mount the case in a bid to secure a referendum. File photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

 

A victims’ campaigner has lost his legal battle to have the British government compelled to put in place a policy for holding a border poll in Northern Ireland.

Lawyers for Raymond McCord claimed the current criteria for calling a referendum on the question of Irish unity lacks transparency.

But the Court of Appeal in Belfast on Monday upheld a decision that it should be left to the North’s Secretary of State to make a decision on the appropriate circumstances.

Lord Justice Stephens ruled that the 1998 Northern Ireland Act “contains no express duty to publish a policy as to when or in what circumstances it is in the public interest to hold a border poll”.

Under the terms of the Belfast Agreement the Northern Secretary can call a vote if he believes a majority of people in the region no longer want to remain part of the United Kingdom.

In June 2018, a High Court judge held there was no legal obligation to have a defined criteria in place. Mr McCord, an outspoken critic of loyalist paramilitaries since a UVF gang beat his son Raymond Jr to death in 1997, appealed that determination.

The Belfast man’s lawyers contended that no-one currently knows what the criteria is for convening a border poll - a position they alleged is unlawful. They claimed an unconstitutional situation has developed where the Northern Secretary has simply opted to maintain the status quo. Mr McCord did not mount the case in a bid to secure a referendum.

He stressed that his aim was to “take orange and green sectarian politics and opinions out of a border poll”. During the hearing his legal team contended that a policy is now required to bring certainty to the issue. However, appeal judges rejected all grounds of challenge, including arguments that the current situation is unreasonable.

Lord Justice Stephens said it was a matter for the Secretary of State to decide which matters should be taken into or left out of account. He added: “On that basis we consider that it is for the respondent to decide what is, or is not relevant to the decision-making process depending on the prevailing circumstances.”