Troubles Act: victims’ families urge next UK government to ‘urgently’ repeal controversial law

Legacy Act replaces criminal and civil investigations and inquests with inquiries carried out by new investigative body

Victims of the Troubles have called on the next UK government to “urgently” repeal the controversial Legacy Act.

They made their appeal ahead of the opening of a court challenge in Belfast on Tuesday to the ruling earlier this year that part of the legislation was unlawful and should be disapplied.

“I have all my confidence in the Labour government, they have said they will give us back our inquests,” said Martina Dillon, whose husband Seamus was shot and killed in Dungannon in 1997 in circumstances suggesting collusion.

The inquest into Mr Dillon’s death was one of those cut short when the Legacy Act came into effect from May 1st.


“We will continue to fight on ... we’re down here to fight, I’m not fighting for me, I’m fighting for everybody here,” she said. “Every victim that’s entitled to an inquest, they should be getting it, it shouldn’t have been taken away.”

“The court has the chance to right this historic wrong,” Gráinne Teggart of Amnesty International said.

“It must immediately, as a legislative priority, repeal the Troubles Act and put in place victim-centred processes that prioritise victims and not perpetrators.”

The Legacy Act, which became law last year, replaces current methods of criminal and civil investigations and inquests with inquiries carried out by a new investigative body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

It has been widely opposed, including by victims’ families and support organisations, all the main political parties north and south, and by the EU and UN.

In February the High Court ruled the most controversial aspect of the legislation, that of conditional amnesties for perpetrators, was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Windsor Framework and should be disapplied.

Mr Justice Colton said there was “no evidence that the granting of immunity under the Act will in any way contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland; indeed, the evidence is to the contrary”.

However, in a judgment described as a “mixed bag”, he said the ICRIR was capable of providing an ECHR-compliant investigation.

The UK government is appealing the aspects of the ruling which found against it, while families of Troubles victims are appealing the human rights compliance of the ICRIR.

“Our significant concerns with that body remain,” Ms Teggart said ahead of the hearing. “We need Article 2 [of the ECHR]-compliant investigations so that victims can finally get truth and justice for their loved ones.”

A general election will take place in the UK on July 4th, and Labour has said previously that if it forms the next government, it will restore legacy inquests and civil cases, and that it wants to see if the ICRIR can command the confidence of victims’ families.

Opening the appeal on Tuesday, the barrister for the UK government, Tony McGleenan KC, began his submissions by summarising the previous, unsuccessful attempts to deal with the legacy of the Troubles since 1998.

The hearing is scheduled to continue until next week.

Additional reporting – PA

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times