A legal challenge is being taken against the UK government’s controversial proposed legislation aimed at dealing with Northern Ireland’s past.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill includes a form of limited immunity for some perpetrators of crimes committed during the conflict and would also prevent future civil cases and inquests into Troubles offences.
All of the main political parties in Northern Ireland and victims’ groups are opposed to the Bill.
The House of Lords on Tuesday supported an amendment setting out conditions for legal immunity as part of reconciliation efforts, including consent from the families of victims. But MPs voted 288 to 205 to reject this amendment and the legislation is expected to receive royal assent and become law next week.
Victims campaigner Raymond McCord launched a legal challenge against it at the High Court in Belfast on Thursday. He said he is seeking a judicial review, arguing that the Bill is a breach of his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Today in Belfast’s High Court my legal challenge against the British government’s shameful legacy Bill began,” he said. “There is a long way to go yet but I believe this is how we will defeat this Bill.
“This challenge would not be necessary if the Conservatives had listened to those most affected by the Bill, the victims and their families, and if the government had not ignored our human rights.”
Mr McCord has long campaigned for answers around the death of his son Raymond McCord jnr, who was killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997.
“Time does not make the pain any easier,” he said. “Human rights of victims are irrelevant to the Conservative government. I have no doubt that victims will be delighted that legal action has started. In the courts we are victims, not Catholics and Protestants.”
Mr McCord said “different political parties in Northern Ireland” have confirmed they are supporting his case and will be at the court with him.
“The Conservatives will now realise the will and determination of victims and others together seeking truth and justice and human rights determined by the law through a court in Northern Ireland in an action which affects thousands,” he said.
Bertie Ahern, who served as taoiseach during the Belfast Agreement peace talks in 1998, urged the UK government not to seek royal assent for the Bill, describing it as “unworkable”.
He told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show: “I don’t know what the King can do, but he seems to be a fair person, he understands Ireland; they should not be asking him to sign a Bill that is clearly against civil rights and human rights.
“Why bring everyone to this point when this Bill should be stood down? You never should bring in legislation you know is not workable, and they know this won’t work.”
He added: “This legislation – which is effectively saying that criminal cases, civil cases, inquests would all be gone – seems to be a very cruel way of dealing with victims.” – PA