Coroner John Leckey this morning questioned the powers of the North’s most senior legal figure, Attorney General John Larkin, concerning his power to reopen legacy inquests.
The shock announcement was made at a preliminary inquest hearing at May’s Chambers when coroner John Leckey read out a brief statement to the court saying that he had sought legal advice on Section 14 of the Coroners Act with regard to the role of the Attorney General in reopening inquests. The coroner further stated that the legal opinion he had sought was miles apart from the view of the Attorney General.
The preliminary hearing was expected to outline normal procedures and begin setting out parameters in preparation for the inquests into the UFF murder of Gerard Slane in September 1988 and that of 11-year-old Francis Rowntree, shot by the British army in April 1972. Successful applications to the Attorney General by lawyers representing the families, and supported by RFJ, were made sometime ago.
Families were shocked and angry as they listened on. Counsel for both families, Fiona Doherty QC, objected to the fact that this was the first that the families and lawyers had been informed despite the fact the Attorney General had instructed that these inquests be reopened as far back as 2 years. Ms. Doherty objected and reiterated that the Attorney General was the senior authoritative figure and aware of his powers. Ms. Doherty also requested from the coroner correspondence between his office and the Attorney General to which Mr. Leckey refused.
Speaking after the hearing Teresa Slane, the widow of Gerard Slane, said;
‘There was talk of national security in court and that therefore this was not a matter for Attorney General John Larkin but rather one for the General Advocate in Britain and the British Secretary of State for the North as national security was not a devolved matter.
‘Where was the security of my family and husband when the British government sent its agents and killers to my home and murdered Gerard?
‘The Slane family see this as yet another roadblock – a political move – to prevent the truth about the British government’s role in the murder of Gerard.
‘The exact same people involved in Gerard’s murder are the very same people involved in the murder of Pat Finucane. While the British government seek to frustrate and stonewall their campaign for truth from London it now also appears to be the case that that hand of cover-up and concealment has extended itself to the coroner’s court in Belfast too.
Speaking alongside the Slane family their solicitor Paul Pierce of Kevin R Winters & Co said:
”Having now discussed this matter fully with the Slane family we will as a matter of urgency seek to challenge this highly unusual move by the coroner.
‘One would have expected that had anyone been of the view that the Attorney General may have acted outside his powers then this should have been a matter for the MoD and the PSNI to raise, and not one for the coroner.
‘There may well be wider implications concerning this morning’s statement and decisions by the coroner for many of those families who have also successfully made application to reopen legacy inquests. This is something that we intend raising with the Attorney General and all the relevant authorities.
‘We remain adamant that there must be an Article 2 compliant inquest into the entire circumstances surrounding the murder of Gerard Slane. This is a case which goes to the very heart of the intelligence services and there already exists within the public domain very disturbing and significant information about Gerard’s murder. The Attorney General examined some of that material and rightly in our view exercised his powers to hold a new inquest.’
Relatives for Justice Director Mark Thompson, who accompanied the families to the hearing, added;
‘The fact remains that the decision to reopen these inquests was based upon the information as contained within the application and assessed under the same legal framework as would have been required by any other legal authority. However, that is not withstanding the view that a political decision and not a legal one takes precedence. There is a real and legitimate feeling that this is a political decision.
‘The actions of the coroner have simply served only to undermine the role of the Attorney General.’ENDS
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT RELATIVES FOR JUSTICE 028 90627171