Council of Europe rebukes UK over Troubles immunity plan

The Council of Europe has rebuked the UK over a plan to grant conditional immunity to people accused of murder and other offences during the Irlanda del Norte Troubles.

El cuerpo, which oversees the European court of human rights (ECHR), on Friday accused the government of not consulting stakeholders and expressed concern over the stated intention to pull the plug on inquests.

It said it would make a formal request to the UK for further information about the Northern Ireland Troubles (legacy and reconciliation) bill – controversial legislation that was included in last month’s Queen’s speech – and require an answer by 1 agosto.

The legislation faced another setback when Keir Starmer confirmed Labour would oppose it. “We will vote against that legislation because it doesn’t have the support of any of the political parties here in Irlanda del Norte,” the Labour leader said during a visit to Belfast.

“It doesn’t have the support of victims’ groups here in Northern Ireland, some of whom have told me themselves they haven’t even been consulted. And it hasn’t got the support of the Irish government.”

The intervention casts doubt over the fate of legislation, which may also be opposed by rebel Conservative MPs.

La mayoría de 3,500 killings during the Troubles are unsolved, leaving a backlog of “legacy” cases that have bedevilled politics and policing in Northern Ireland.

Downing Street initially planned to introduce a blanket amnesty that was widely viewed as an attempt to shield security force veterans from prosecution, leaving victims’ families without any hope of truth or justice.

After an outcry the government tweaked the legislation to make immunity conditional on cooperation with a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, calling it the best route to give victims and their families answers while giving security force veterans certainty.

Under the plan existing inquests and civil rights cases could proceed as normal, if they have had substantive hearings, while less advanced and future Troubles-related cases would be folded into the reconciliation and information recovery process.

En el note publicado el viernes, the Council of Europe said any legislation must comply with the European convention on human rights and permit effective investigations into all outstanding cases.

It “noted with regret” the lack of formal public consultation on the draft legislation and expressed “concern” over the plan to terminate some pending inquests. It requested further information to determine if the legislation would be compatible with the UK’s obligations under the European convention.

The Council of Europe reiterated concern over “shortcomings” in UK investigations into killings by security forces in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 90s. It has become increasingly concerned over what it sees as the UK’s failure to enforce ECHR rulings requiring effective investigations into killings during the Troubles.

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