United Kingdom Should Prioritize Peace Process in Northern Ireland, Urges City Bar on the 20th Anniversary of Belfast Agreement

Marking the twentieth anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, the New York City Bar Association has sent a letter urging the United Kingdom “to more fully realize its commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland by prioritizing the formation of a comprehensive and inclusive set of mechanisms to effectively investigate all allegations of human rights violations relating to the past through impartial and independent examination.”

Signed by City Bar President John S. Kiernan and Chair of its International Human Rights Committee Anil Kalhan, the letter notes that, in order to be effective, “these mechanisms must receive sufficient financial and other resources to ensure their ability to operate through to the completion of their investigations.” Further, “in the current absence of progress on a comprehensive process,” the letter urges the UK government “at a minimum and without further delay, to ensure adequate funding and personnel for legacy inquests as required under both domestic and international law.”

The letter notes that soon after the Belfast Agreement was signed, the European Court of Human Rights determined that the government must provide prompt and effective remedies in cases involving allegations of unlawful killings including where there is use of lethal force by agents of the state. However, “as acknowledged by the parties in the Stormont House Agreement in 2014, the legacy inquest process has not “provid[ed] access to a sufficiently effective investigation within an acceptable timeframe.” It has been reported that there currently remain over fifty legacy inquests outstanding (concerning over ninety deaths) and as many as seventy-two additional cases awaiting consideration by the Attorney General.

Despite a longstanding proposal by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Declan Morgan, to clear the backlog of inquest cases within five years, the legacy inquest process has stalled. As a recent judgment of the High Court of Northern Ireland makes clear, “the lengthy, ongoing delay in conducting these legacy inquests infringes upon rights under both domestic and international law.” “We are encouraged,” the letter notes, “that the High Court’s judgment directs reconsideration of the provision of additional funding for legacy inquests.”

Remarking on the growing sense of hope at the prospects of achieving lasting peace, the letter concludes that “[o]n this important anniversary of the beginning of the peace process, we urge the government of the United Kingdom to ensure that this vital component of that process moves forward without continued delay by ensuring that sufficient resources are devoted to the inquest system.”

The letter can be read here.

About the Association
The New York City Bar Association, since its founding in 1870, has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the legal profession, promoting reform of the law and access to justice, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association, through its 24,000 members, continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.