22 October 2005

Finucane probe delayed by lack of inquiry judge

Belfast Telegraph

Drive forces legal experts to snub hearing

By Chris Thornton, Political Correspondent
22 October 2005

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Pat Finucane, murdered by State-sponsored terrorism

A CAMPAIGN to discourage judges from taking charge of the inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder appears to have handcuffed the Government's plans for setting up the probe.

Two years after the inquiry was recommended by retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, the Government has been unable to appoint a judge to oversee the case.

Sources close to the case say numerous judges have been approached about conducting the inquiry - looking at collusion in the solicitor's 1989 murder - but so far all have declined to take part.

The judges' reluctance appears to be the result of an international campaign by the family of the murdered solicitor and Amnesty International, who said the inquiry would be "a sham".

The campaign to discourage judges from taking the case was launched in response to the Inquiries Act, the special legislation passed six months ago for holding the Finucane probe.

The family and human rights groups objected to the legislation, saying it increased the Government's ability to control the information that went before the inquiry.

Bloody Sunday Inquiry chief Lord Saville is among the senior legal figures who have objected to the Act and Justice Cory said it would make a proper examination of the Finucane case "impossible".

Preparations for the inquiry are continuing. The investigation team under former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens - the detective who uncovered collusion in the case - is currently indexing all the material they found during the years spent investigating the Finucane murder and other collusion cases.

But finding a judge to chair the inquiry appears to remain a stumbling block.

However, Ministers insist they will not be going back to the drawing board.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said: "We are currently taking forward arrangements for the establishment of the inquiry.

"The Secretary of State hopes to make an announcement on its terms of reference and membership in due course."

Two years have passed since Justice Cory recommended an inquiry into the case.

The Government held on to his report for six months before publishing it.

Then in September 2004 the then Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, announced plans for the Inquiries Act, which he said would allow the Finucane case to be conducted "speedily and effectively".

The legislation was pushed through Parliament in April, days before Westminster broke up for the general election. Around the time it was passed, a senior British official told the UN Human Rights Commission that a "large proportion" of the inquiry would have to be held in secret.

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