CAJ welcomes call on UK from Council of Europe ministers for a fundamental rethink of NI legacy billSeptember 23, 2022
CAJ has welcomed a decision by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to call on the UK to rethink the controversial Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.
The now-published decision by the Committee of Minister (CoM), who met in Strasbourg, France, earlier this week, states that if the legislation is progressed it must be “in full compliance with the European Convention [of human rights]”, “enable effective investigations into all outstanding cases”, and be able to gain “the confidence of victims, families and potential witnesses”.
The CoM goes on to state its serious concerns at the lack of formal consultation on the current legacy bill and “the minimal support for, and public confidence in the Bill and its mechanisms in Northern Ireland from victims groups, civil society, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and political representatives”.
While the CoM noted the UK government’s own position that the legacy bill is compatible with the European Convention, they were clearly not persuaded. Instead, the CoM urged the UK government to make significant amendments to the Bill, including guaranteeing in law the independence of the proposed Information Recovery Commission, ensuring that full disclosure of information be given to it. The UK was also urged to allow pending inquests to conclude and to reconsider the conditional immunity scheme, given concerns about its compatibility with the European Convention.
Commenting on the CoM decision, CAJ’s Deputy Director, Daniel Holder, said: “This is a welcome decision from the Committee of Ministers. Bearing in mind the diplomatic process by which these statements are produced, which involves intense negotiations between Members States including the UK government, this is a very strong statement.
“In effect, the CoM is going as far as it can to signal its view that the legacy bill is incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights and asking the UK government to rethink its entire approach to this legacy legislation and to take seriously the concerns of victims and others.
“We would call on the UK to now withdraw this bill and abide by its international human rights obligations. We welcome the engagement of the international community on this issue – if the British Government pushes through this legacy bill it will not only lead to worrying impunity within NI, but will risk being replicated by authoritarian governments elsewhere.”
The CoM decision has been published online in full.
What is the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill?
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill was introduced to the UK Parliament in May 2022 and has departed entirely from the legacy mechanisms proposed within the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, a move that has garnered virtually no support from within NI.
The bill will close down all current independent judicial and investigative processes into Northern Ireland legacy cases. It will ban future investigations and, instead, for a temporary period, set up an alternative legacy body designed to do limited desktop ‘reviews’ of cases, which will be subject to significant control from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The Bill completed passage through the House of Commons in July 2022 and is now in the House of Lords. A written submission from CAJ to the Committee of Ministers in relation to the above process is available here.
What is the Council of Europe?
The Council of Europe is the 46-nation international body established to maintain democracy and the rule of law in Europe and oversees compliance with judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Europe should not be confused with the EU and is an entirely separate body. The UK is a founder member state of the Council of Europe.
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