Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State has pledged to take a decision on whether to order a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane by the end of November, the High Court heard today.
ounsel for Brandon Lewis gave the commitment and offered an apology for the time taken to reach a final position – some of which could not be justified.
The development came in a legal challenge by Mr Finucane’s widow to the British Government’s delay in acting on a finding that his death has never been properly investigated.
Geraldine Finucane’s barrister described the ongoing hold-up as “shameful”.
Mr Finucane, 39, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in front of his wife and three children at their north Belfast home in February 1989.
His family have campaigned ever since for a public inquiry to establish the full scale of security force collusion in the assassination.
In February last year the Supreme Court held that previous probes into the murder did not meet human rights standards.
Mrs Finucane brought judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State for failing to take a decision on the investigation required since that ruling.
Her legal team argued that the continuing delay is unjustified and an unlawful breach of human rights.
The judge hearing the case, Mr Justice McAlinden, also expressed his deep unease at how the Government was dealing with a continued breach of international and domestic legal obligations.
As proceedings resumed on Monday, Paul McLaughlin QC, for the Secretary of State, said he was instructed to offer a commitment to reach a decision on or before November 30 – in time for a meeting of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in December.
Mr McLaughlin acknowledged some of the periods of time taken to reach a decision are not justifiable.
He added that the Secretary of State wanted to indicate that he is sorry it has taken so long to reach a final decision in the case.
Fiona Doherty QC, representing Mrs Finucane, said: “It is shameful that, 30 years after Mr Finucane’s murder, it has taken 20 months or more for the Government to react to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“In our respectful submission an apology is the least that the Secretary of State owes Mrs Finucane.”
However, Mr Justice McAlinden welcomed the approach now being taken.
“I think it is important that central government behaves in an appropriate manner, and the acknowledgment and the offering of an apology is a highly appropriate response at this stage,” he said.
The judge agreed to adjourn the case, with a further review listed in December.
“We expect that the Secretary of State will now take the only legitimate course available to him and announce a full public judicial inquiry and that we will not need to resort to further court proceedings.”
Sinn Fein MP John Finucane called on the Government to immediately establish a public inquiry into the killing of his father.
“We need actions from the British Government, not hollow apologies,” he said.
“An independent public inquiry is the only mechanism to establish the truth and this must be established urgently.
“We have been denied the truth for 31 years, the truth must not be denied a day longer.”