Changes must be made to a new legacy Bill to be Human Rights compliant

More resources needed to transfer investigations to a new independent policing unit dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

Aug 31, 2018
By Serena Lander

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said the Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past Bill marks a positive step for province but, in a report published on Friday (August 31), made 80 recommendations on how it can be improved.  

The Northern Ireland Office has also launched a public consultation on the Bill, which will inform Stormont how to address the legacy of Troubles.  

This includes the introduction of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), which would be an independent, investigative institution responsible for completing outstanding investigations into Troubles-related deaths.  

The Commission provided 48 recommendations on how the independent unit could be ensured to be human rights compliant.  

It said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Police Ombudsman must be adequately resourced so that they can promptly transfer all relevant case files and information to the HIU. 

The Bill should also state that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services should be given the power to inspect the HIU. 

The HIU would have policing powers and receive full information disclosure from the UK Government and its agencies.  

It is estimated that the HIU would have a caseload of approximately 1,700 deaths and would complete its work in five years. 

The remit of the HIU would be made up of the following categories:  

  • Deaths that were part of the caseload of the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and require further investigation;  
  • Deaths that are part of the caseload of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Historical Investigations Directorate (HID) and require further investigation; and 
  • Troubles-related deaths that occurred in Northern Ireland in the period between April 11, 1998 and March 31, 2004. 

<link>The Commission reiterated that if any statute of limitations were to apply to British military alone <link> then this would amount to an amnesty and is incompatible with human rights law. 

However, the Commission said it welcomes confirmation in line with its previous advice that there will be amendments made to the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to ensure that those convicted of an offence committed between January 1, 1968 and April 10, 1998, including by members of the security forces, will be eligible to apply to the accelerated release scheme. 

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said: “The Commission welcomes the draft legislation and acknowledges the consultation and draft Bill as a positive step forward by the Northern Ireland Office. However, further work needs to be done to ensure the key principle within the draft Bill that ‘human rights obligations should be complied with’ is met in practice. 

“Our advice sets out in detail what we believe is required to make the proposals fully human rights compliant. We believe that the Stormont House Agreement mechanisms must be up and running as soon as possible. The proposed mechanisms must be adequately resourced to allow them to work.” 

The consultation for the new Bill is due to close on September 10.  

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