28 February 2006

Controversial new law applied to Hamill inquiry

Belefast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
28 February 2006

The inquiry into the murder of Portadown man Robert Hamill is about to become the second collusion case switched over to controversial new legislation.

The chairman of the inquiry, which is examining police handling of Mr Hamill's death at the hands of a loyalist mob, recently asked Secretary of State Peter Hain to convert the case to the Inquiries Act.

Former High Court Justice Edwin Jowitt has asked for the switch because "important witnesses are unwilling to give evidence" and the new law will allow him to force them to appear.

But the Act has also attracted criticism because it gives Ministers unprecedented powers to keep information secret.

David Wright, the father of murdered LVF leader Billy Wright, is currently mounting a High Court challenge against the use of the law in the inquiry into his son's prison murder.

The Wright case was originally set up under the Prisons Act but was converted to the Inquiries Act last year.

And the family of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane have strenuously opposed Government plans to hold the inquiry into his murder under the Act.

The family have said they will refuse to cooperate with the proposed inquiry, arguing that the law takes away the inquiry's independence.

The Finucanes have led an international campaign to convince judges not to take the case under those terms.

Mr Hain wrote to Mr Finucane's widow Geraldine last week to defend the Act and tell her that it would not be used to cover up information. He said the "volume of sensitive evidence is far too great" in the Finucane case to use the old system.

Last week retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, who recommended the Hamill, Wright and Finucane inquiries alongside two other cases, cast doubt over the Government's claims that serious national security issues could be compromised by the Finucane case.

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