AP front 1 - 2022

22 November 2001 Edition

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Bloody Sunday families' fury


Fears that the British judicial system would once again rule in favour of the British Army were realised last week when the High Court in London overturned Lord Saville's ruling in August that, in the interests of public confidence in the tribunal, soldiers involved in the events of Bloody Sunday should give their evidence in Derry. British intelligence and the RUC told the court that military witnesses would provide "particularly provocative targets".

Although a ruling in favour of the soldiers, believed to number as many as 400, was widely expected, the victims' families are bitterly disappointed and angry with the decision of the High Court. Liam Wray, whose brother Jim was killed by paratroopers, said afterwards that he believed there was a concerted effort by the British establishment to intervene in the tribunal "to such an extent that Lord Saville cannot continue with the inquiry".

The families have been granted the right to take their case to the Court of Appeal, but it seems increasingly likely that the soldiers will be able to give their evidence at a venue in London some time next year, although this has as yet not been identified. This is the second occasion that the High Court has overturned a ruling by Lord Saville; last year it also decided that the tribual chairman was wrong when he said that those soldiers who fired on the crowd on Bloody Sunday should have no automatic right to anonymity when giving evidence.

Lawyers representing 36 of the soldiers applied for a judicial review of Lord Saville's original ruling regarding attendance in Derry, claiming that the men would be in danger from so-called dissident republicans should they attend the inquiry in person and claiming that the ruling was a breach of their right to life under the European Human Rights Convention. They argued that the tribunal did not use the correct legal test when assessing the risk to them that that the judges' conclusion that they did not have reasonable fears for their safety were wrong. The victims' families' repeated assurances with regard to the safety of the soldiers were dismissed.

"This misdirection fundamentally flaws the tribunal's decision," the judges said, but "whether their decision would have been the same or different if the correct test had been applied is a matter for the tribunal rather than this court to determine."

The judges ruled that the tribunal had ignored the possible need for and effects of high levels of security on "middle aged witnesses, many of whom have been civilians for many years, of the extensive security measures required in relation to accommodation, transport and close protection". The judges rejected the tribunal's conclusion that holding such an important element of the inquiry away from Derry itself, where the events took place, would infringe the families' right to a fair hearing.

John Kelly, whso brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday, said: "When Tony Blair announced this inquiry he promised it would be independent, but that independence has been eroded again."

Lawyer Ciaran Sheils, who represents many of the victims and families, said the decision was a serious blow for the inquiry. "The willingness of these courts to interfere with the decision making of this distinguished international tribunal is without parallel in modern history," he said.

"The proper place for the soldiers to give their evidence is, as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry held, is the Guildhall in Derry where hundreds of civilian witnesses have already given their evidence and continue to do so.

"The families do not accept that there is a risk to the soldiers' lives if they give evidence in Derry. It is noted that the judgment was given on the day after the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited Derry. Derry is thus regarded as safe enough for the British Royal Family to visit but apparently not safe enough for former British soldiers to give evidence."


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