15 July 2004 Edition

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Concerns over inquiry principles

The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has expressed concern over the independence of the inquiries being set up to investigate the deaths of Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and LVF killer Billy Wright.

The CAJ also raised questions about some of the principles announced by the British Government, on Thursday 8 July, that will govern the inquiries.

CAJ Director Maggie Beirne said that while the human rights watchdog was looking forward to finding out who would be heading the inquiries, CAJ has concerns about who will appoint the panels.

"The key concerns we would have is that the principles emphasise the importance of counsel and the legal and administrative staff to the inquiry team but it is not clear who is appointing them," she said. "Is it the judge or the inquiry panel or will it be the British Government? The British Government emphasised the importance of independence but will that panel itself be able to appoint its own staff?"

Beirne said CAJ is also concerned about the references, made by British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy when he revealed the principles, to national security exemptions, saying "if the British Government chooses to define this widely it could create problems".

When NIO minister Paul Murphy outlined the framework for the probes into the killings, he confirmed that each tribunal would have three members, all drawn from outside the Six Counties and headed by a senior or retired judge. The judges will be supported by two colleagues, one with specialist expertise and the other a lay person.

The inquiry will have the power to subpoena witnesses and seek the disclosure of relevant documents, but Murphy warned that the inquiries must be cost effective and cited the cost of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Truth, Philip McGuigan, has said that any penny pinching on these inquiries would not serve the interests of truth and justice.

"People deserve and demand the truth into the killings of their loved ones and money should be no option," he said. "Any inquiry should be independent, transparent and have the power and resources to establish the facts."

The British Government agreed to the inquiries after retired Canadian Judge Peter Cory examined claims of collusion between the British Government and unionist paramilitaries in the killings of Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright. However, the British have consistently refused to press ahead with an inquiry into the 1989 killing of solicitor Pat Finucane by the UDA, blaming the delay on legal proceedings.

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