Promoting Justice /
Protecting Rights

CAJ responds to Secretary of State smokescreen and refusal to discharge commitment to order a Public Inquiry into the killing of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane

The case of Pat Finucane is one of profound importance for society in Northern Ireland and for those who believe in the rule of law.

CAJ condemns the refusal of the UK government to hold a proper independent inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. The statement by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis alluding to a PSNI review of papers and Police Ombudsman investigation is simply a smokescreen, and as such a further insult to the Finucane family and those who have supported them in their 30 year long fight for truth and justice in this case.

Twenty years ago, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a damning judgment in Finucane v UK. The Court found that the UK had breached the right to life, as protected by Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), due to the flawed investigations – including those of the RUC –  into Pat Finucane’s murder.  The Secretary of State has failed to honour a commitment to hold an independent public inquiry into this murder, following the UK-Ireland Weston Park Agreement in 2001.

Two years ago, the UK Supreme Court found that previous reviews carried out by Lord Stevens, Justice Cory, and Sir Desmond de Silva failed to meet the requisite investigative standards of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, even when considered cumulatively. Yet now we have a Secretary of State turning that judgment on its head, and suggesting that the PSNI and a severely under-resourced Police Ombudsman can in fact discharge the UK’s Article 2 obligations.

Minutes after this announcement the PSNI Chief Constable stated that in fact there are “currently no new lines of inquiry” and they would “need to decide if a further review is merited given all the previous investigations into this case” (1), thus confirming the absurdity of this approach. The Secretary of State will know that the PSNI has been found to lack operational independence from the RUC and is legally liable for the actions of the RUC. Furthermore, it is farcical to imagine that such a further review of the papers could reveal any new information.

Families seeking Police Ombudsman investigations into legacy cases face protracted delays as this office continues to be starved of the resources required to do its job. There are also serious limitations in its powers. It cannot investigate the actions of MI5, the Force Research Unit (FRU), any informant, or former Conservative ministers.

This proposal raises more questions than answers.

Gemma McKeown, CAJ Solicitor, said: “What is the UK government trying to hide? We know Pat Finucane was murdered in front of his family. We know there were ‘shocking levels’ of state collusion with the murder, because David Cameron apologised for it. What we don’t know are the details and how far up the chain of command the collusion went. We need to know which state agent, at what level, authorised the murder and who was complicit in the thirty year cover-up. A narrowly focussed police investigation won’t find out, nor will an even more narrowly focussed Police Ombudsman process. Only a full effective public inquiry, with wide-reaching terms of reference, and powers of compellability  can discover the truth.

“When delivering this blow to the Finucane family, Brandon Lewis spoke of truth and reconciliation, but now more than ever those words ring hollow. “

This week the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers will be reviewing the Finucane case as they have been doing for the last 20 years. In September, they expressed their ‘deep concern’ that a decision has still not been in response to the Supreme Court judgment. We will be calling for them to take decisive action following the announcement of Brandon Lewis to renege on commitments to hold a public inquiry. At the same session, the Committee of Ministers will also examine the failure of the UK Government to establish structures to deal with all outstanding legacy cases in Northern Ireland, following the unilateral abandonment by the Secretary of State of repeated commitments to implement the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.

In October 2020, in a further legal challenge taken by Geraldine Finucane, the High Court spoke of the delays by the UK government in this case as ‘insult to injury’ – this has now been magnified to an unimaginable level following the Secretary of State’s announcement.

Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator on or 075 1994 1203.

(1) Quotes drawn from this statement.

Notes to editors

  • More information on the Committee of Minsters and its functions can be found here:
  • The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is an independent, non-governmental human rights organisation, which works to ensure that the administration of justice in Northern Ireland is compatible with the highest international human rights standards.
  • See for further information on CAJ and its work.


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