09 September 2005

UK govt funding for Omagh case halted


09/09/2005 - 15:50:11

British government funding to help the Omagh families take civil action against those they believe were responsible for the Real IRA bomb which killed 29 people has been put on hold, a court was told today.

The Northern Ireland High Court heard that Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer accepted a judgment last month that he had overstepped his powers and the mechanism for providing some £800,000 (€1.18m) to help the civil action was unlawful.

At a resumed hearing Judge Mr Justice Coghlin was told by Bernard McCloskey, QC, the Lord Chancellor accepted the court’s judgment and acknowledged that he must deal with the court’s concerns.

Mr McCloskey said the Lord Chancellor would do so by revoking his direction to the Legal Services Commission – under which the money was paid – within 14 days.

The Lord Chancellor also pledged the LSC would make no further payments to the families over the coming 14 days, said Mr McCloskey.

Sums in excess of £400,000 (€592,000) have already been handed over by the LSC to help pay for the legal preparation of the civil action.

There was no suggestion in court that money already paid would have to be returned or the remainder would not be paid eventually.

The Lord Chancellor will look at ways of introducing new legislation to legalise the payments to meet the judgment of the court, said Mr McCloskey.

He added: “That is going to require some reflection and may require some consultation and liaison with other government ministers.”

The judge said he was grateful for the time the Lord Chancellor had taken to deal with the issue.

He said he was satisfied with the undertakings given on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and there was therefore no need for him to make an order declaring the Access to Justice Order passed in 2003 – under which the money was paid - unlawful.

The legal action was started by convicted Real IRA godfather Michael McKevitt - one of those facing the civil action.

He challenged the legality of the British government aiding the Omagh families financially while he was refused legal aid to contest their action.

McKevitt had initially been granted legal aid to fight the civil action but it was revoked after he was jailed in the Republic of Ireland on Real IRA changes.

McKevitt, 54, from Blackrock, Co Louth, and four others – Seamus Daly, Seamus McKenna, Liam Campbell and Colm Murphy – are being sued for £14m (€20m) by the Omagh families.

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