The Irish Times view on the ‘Hooded Men’: closer to justice

The UK supreme court ruling ought to lend more weight to the case for scrapping British government plans to introduce a statute of limitations for Troubles-era crimes

In a welcome vindication of the long-running campaign for justice for the "hooded men", the UK supreme court ruled on Wednesday that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) acted unlawfully by deciding in 2014 to discontinue an investigation into the severe interrogation techniques used against the men.

The 14 individuals, interned at Ballykelly army base in Co Derry in 1971, had hoods placed over their heads, were subjected to “white noise”, were put in stress positions and were deprived of sleep, food and water. Were this to happen today, as Belfast’s court of appeal observed in 2019, there would be no debate about what this maltreatment amounted to: the men were tortured. After a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights by the Irish Government, however, the Strasbourg court in 1978 ruled that the men had been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment but fell short of concluding that they had been tortured.

There matters stood until 2014, when an RTÉ documentary revealed a British government memorandum from the 1970s which referred to the use of torture and to its approval by British ministers. That prompted the PSNI to consider whether there was enough evidence to warrant a new investigation, but it concluded there was not. The supreme court ruling, which concluded that that PSNI decision was "irrational" and should be quashed, is the culmination of a lengthy legal battle by the hooded men and their supporters.

For the men and their families, it is an important step in the long battle for official acknowledgment of what they suffered. In itself it does not bring accountability, but it does make an important statement about British authorities’ responsibility to confront their own agents’ role in inflicting such terrible trauma.


And it ought to lend more weight to the already overwhelming case for scrapping British government plans to introduce a statute of limitations for Troubles-era crimes. Reckoning with the past is not an impediment to building a better future; it is a prerequisite.