Court challenge to potential Troubles amnesty dismissed by the Court of Appeal

The case was heard at the Court of Appeal

Relatives of two people killed during the conflict in Northern Ireland have lost a legal battle against British Government plans for a blanket-ban on all Troubles-era prosecutions.

Patricia Burns and Daniel McCready wanted the Court of Appeal to declare the proposed legislation, which would also end legacy-related civil litigation and inquests, to be unlawful.

But with no bill yet tabled at Parliament and political negotiations ongoing, senior judges held that their challenge was premature.

Dismissing the case, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan said today: “In our view it is neither appropriate nor wise to make rulings on questions of law until the precise terms of any legislation are known.

“Both applicants seek rulings in relation to an alleged decision which has not yet finally been reached and which may, or may not, come to pass.”

Ms Burns' father, former Royal Navy sailor Thomas Burns, was shot by the British Army outside Glenpark Social Club in north Belfast in July 1972.

She took the case along with Mr McCready, whose uncle, Jim McCann, was among six men allegedly killed by soldiers in the New Lodge area of the city in February 1973.

In a statement at the time the Army claimed they had been shot during a gun battle, but no weapons were recovered.

A new inquest has been ordered into the deaths of the men, known as the New Lodge Six.

The challenge centred on a command paper published last July, setting out the Government’s intention to prohibit future prosecutions of military veterans and ex-paramilitaries for incidents pre-dating April 1998.

Aimed at drawing a line under the past, the so-called Troubles amnesty is opposed by all the main political parties at Stormont and the Irish Government.

Ms Burns and Mr McCready were seeking an advisory declaration that the proposals would involve an illegal trespass on the role of the judiciary.

In an appeal mounted after the High Court rejected their initial challenge, counsel for the two bereaved relatives claimed the plans represent an unprecedented attack on the rule of law.

Judges were told the intended legislation is so unconstitutional that it could never be validly enacted.

Government lawyers countered that it would be constitutionally inappropriate for the court to intervene in the political sphere at this stage.

Ruling on the case, Dame Siobhan backed those submissions.

She said: “Put simply, there is no justiciable decision to review in this case given that the command paper sets out government proposals which have not yet resulted in the introduction of legislation.

“In our view this presents an insurmountable obstacle to the argument that this court can declare on the law.”

Describing the situation as “fluid”, the Lady Chief Justice added: “In a highly political and contentious context such as this we do not favour the approach suggested, especially as there is an ongoing process of negotiation.”

She confirmed: “Accordingly, we consider that the claims are premature, and non-justiciable.

“The subject matter is also part of an ongoing consultative process which is firmly within the political arena.”