Solicitors acting for the relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday have said the prosecution of Soldier F must resume immediately after a decision to drop charges against him was quashed by the High Court in Belfast.
On Wednesday senior judges directed the North's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to rethink its determination that the former member of the British army's Parachute Regiment should not stand trial for two murders and five attempted murders in Derry in January 1972.
"This is a rare occasion where we consider the decision should be quashed and reconsidered," said Lady Chief Justice Siobhan Keegan.
Following the judgment Ciaran Shiels of Madden and Finucane solicitors said the PPS "must now review its decision taking into account this court's judgment and properly applying the principles and guidance provided by it".
“We would call upon the PPS to move immediately to re-institute the proceedings at Derry District Judge’s Court against Soldier F and to secure his committal for trial in the Crown Court.”
His colleague Fearghal Shiels, also of Madden and Finucane solicitors, said the prosecution "could and should proceed", and it was now incumbent on prosecutors to avoid further delay.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Stephen Herron, said the court ruling acknowledged the "difficult and complex legal issues faced by prosecutors when assessing the admissibility of statements made by soldiers in particular circumstances in 1972".
He said the team involved in the prosecution of Soldier F would take time to consider the full detail of the written judgment and would “update the District Judge and the parties directly involved in the Soldier F prosecution on the outcome of this process at the earliest opportunity”.
Thirteen people died and others were injured when soldiers opened fire on an anti-internment march in Derry’s Bogside on what became known as Bloody Sunday. A fourteenth died later.
Following a police investigation the PPS announced in 2019 that Soldier F was to face prosecution for the murders of William McKinney and James Wray on Bloody Sunday, and the attempted murder of five others.
However, last year it said it would discontinue the charges against him after a review of the case triggered by the collapse of separate criminal proceedings against two other former soldiers for Troubles-era offences.
Relatives of the victims took legal challenges against this decision and separate decisions not prosecute six other former paratroopers for the deaths of other victims on Bloody Sunday.
These additional challenges were dismissed by the High Court.
Wednesday’s judgment was welcomed by relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday.
Mr McKinney's brother Mickey said they were "delighted for our own family but also for the family of Jim Wray and those who were wounded in Glenfada Park" .
He said it was “with regret that we were forced to bring these proceedings in the first place but the PPS did not engage with us properly in respect of its decision-making” and this had “forced our hand” .
In her ruling the Chief Justice said the prosecution of Soldier F had been recommended based on a reasonable prospect that third-party statements from other soldiers would be admitted at trial.
She stated: “Overall we do not consider that the rationale for the change of mind which we have set out above is sustainable. In our view it strays too far away from the original merits-based assessment of the PPS in circumstances where in fact little if anything of direct relevance to the Soldier F prosecution has changed.”
Confirming that the PPS should carry out a reassessment in the Soldier F case, the Chief Justice added: “There is a difficulty with the conclusion that the reasonable prospect of conviction previously found had dissipated so that the prosecution should be discontinued at this stage.”