Lewis cannot be held 'culpable' for not holding inquiry into Finucane murder

Pat Finucane was killed in 1989. Credit: UTV

Brandon Lewis cannot be held legally "culpable" for not establishing a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for the Secretary of State argued that he is entitled to await the outcome of other police reviews which go towards investigative obligations the government is under.

Judgment was reserved in a challenge mounted by the assassinated lawyer’s widow.

Geraldine Finucane is seeking to judicially review Mr Lewis for deciding against ordering a public inquiry into events surrounding the killing in February 1989, claiming it breached her human rights.

Mr Finucane was shot dead by loyalist paramilitary gunmen in front of his wife and three children at their home in north Belfast.

His family have campaigned ever since for a public inquiry to establish the full scale of security force collusion in the murder.

In February 2019 the UK’s Supreme Court held that previous probes failed to meet standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since then, Mrs Finucane has been locked in further legal battles against the British Government’s response to that ruling.

In November 2020 the Secretary of State announced there would not be a public inquiry at this stage because he wanted other processes by the PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) to run their course.

He has already been ordered to pay £7,500 damages to Mrs Finucane for the excessive delay in reaching that position.

In the current challenge the widow’s lawyers claim Mr Lewis’ decision was irrational and unlawful.

The LIB has now finished its work, while the Ombudsman’s review will not be completed until at least 2025, the court heard.

It was contended that only a public inquiry into the murder will uncover the true extent of a state-operated policy of "extrajudicial executions".

Mr Finucane was described as the victim of a scheme where loyalist paramilitaries were infiltrated, resourced and manipulated to target those identified for assassination.

On day two of the case Paul McLaughlin QC, for the Secretary of State, acknowledged the Supreme Court had clearly found a breach of Article 2 on the basis that previous investigations lacked capacity to "unravel the various stands of involvement of the State".

He insisted there was no suggestion of Mr Lewis not accepting those findings or refusing to ever set up a public inquiry after the other investigations are finalised.

"From the Secretary of State’s perspective, from all the material and information which he gathered about the PSNI and Police Ombudsman processes, it’s not culpable on his part to allow those to proceed, where they can at least contribute to Article 2 discharge,” the barrister submitted.

He told the court that the police and PONI are reviewing any evidential opportunities and potential misconduct respectively.

"Where those investigations go, or how they conclude, isn’t yet known, but they fall within the criminal bracket," he said.

"Those are essential elements of any Article 2 investigation."

Dealing with any power to compel witnesses or arrest retired police officers, he insisted the legal obligation can still be met through voluntary attendance.

Mr McLaughlin added: “You can’t impugn the PSNI or PONI as not having adequate powers to do what they are tasked to do, even if they do not represent the totality of what might be required in this case."

Following closing arguments Mr Justice Scoffield pledged: "I will give judgment whenever I can."