DOJ announces legacy inquest reform

Date published: 28 February 2019

The Department of Justice has announced an initiative to speed up legacy inquest arrangements and deal with outstanding cases.

Peter May, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Justice, said:  “The delays in progressing legacy inquests have been unacceptable to families involved and to the justice system. 

“In the Hughes Judicial Review judgment, the Court ruled that progress on securing funding for legacy inquests should not be linked with agreement on the overall legacy package but taken forward as a separate issue.

“This initiative takes account of that judgment and will support a significant expansion of capacity to clear the outstanding legacy inquests over the next six years.”

This initiative, will allow the implementation of proposals developed by the Lord Chief Justice in 2016.  Building on a number of assumptions, the Department estimates the cost of delivering the new inquest model at £55m over six years.  Funding for legacy inquests formed part of the discussions on departmental allocations agreed as part of the overall Budget for 2019-20.  The announcement of the Budget outcome today will allow this work to proceed in 2019-20.  It is expected that funding requirements will be updated annually and considered as part of the local budget process.

A new Legacy Inquest Unit will be set up within the Coroners Service to process legacy inquests, under the remit of the Lord Chief Justice as President of Coroners Courts.

The Unit will be supported by increased capacity in PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service and other justice agencies.

The six year timescale for the initiative reflects the need to build up capacity and the complexity of the outstanding legacy inquest cases.

Welcoming the support the Department had received in progressing the reform programme, Peter May added: “I am grateful to both the Lord Chief Justice for developing his proposals to reform legacy inquest process and to the Department of Finance for agreeing to the business case to bring this programme into operation.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. Although there is no formal or legislative definition of a legacy inquest case, there is an accepted definition used for administrative purposes – a legacy case is generally one which involves or is related to deaths arising out of the ‘Troubles’.
  2. There are 52 legacy inquest cases relating to 93 deaths at various stages of the investigation and inquest process.  These cases, which relate to deaths between the 1970s and 2000s, cover some of the most sensitive, complex and high profile deaths during the ‘Troubles’. 
  3. In 2016 the Lord Chief Justice (LCJ) put forward reform proposals.  These concluded that, with the support of a properly resourced dedicated Legacy Inquest Unit and co-operation from the relevant justice bodies, it should be possible to complete the current caseload of 52 legacy inquests involving 93 deaths within a five-year period. In arriving at this proposal, the LCJ consulted  the International Human Rights Community, including the UN’s Special Rapporteur and the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner about the principals that should underpin an Article 2 compliant model for dealing with legacy cases.
  4. The six year programme includes an initial 12 month period required to recruit necessary specialist staff and set up new systems.
  5. All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office 028 9052 6444.  Out of office hours, please contact the duty press officer on 028 9037 8110. 

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