Northern Ireland Secretary of State to pay £5k damages to widow of solicitor Pat Finucane
Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State is to pay a further £5,000 damages to the widow of solicitor Pat Finucane for remaining in breach of a legal obligation to carry out a human-rights compliant investigation into his murder, a High Court judge has ruled.
Mr Justice Scoffield held that Geraldine Finucane is entitled to the award due to the “culpable delay” in Chris Heaton-Harris taking a new decision on whether to establish a public inquiry.
It is the second time that the UK Government has been ordered to make a pay-out to Mrs Finucane over hold-ups in responding to her family’s campaign for a probe to establish the full scale of security force collusion into one of the most notorious assassinations of the Troubles.
Mr Finucane, 39, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitary gunmen in front of his wife and three children at their north Belfast home in February 1989.
In 2019, the UK Supreme Court declared that previous investigations into the killing failed to meet standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Since then, Mrs Finucane has mounted a series of legal battles over the Government’s response to that finding.
In November 2020, former Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced there would not be a public inquiry at this stage because he wanted other police review processes to run their course.
He was then ordered to pay £7,500 damages to Mrs Finucane for the excessive delay in reaching that position.
A further challenge was taken against the legality of his decision to await the outcome of reviews by the PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).
In December last year, Mr Justice Scoffield ruled that the Government remains in breach of Article 2 by the ongoing delay in completing a probe which meets those legal requirements.
He quashed the decision not to establish a public inquiry at this stage, finding that Mr Lewis unlawfully failed to reconsider that position following the conclusion of a police review process.
At that stage a direction was issued for a fresh decision to be taken on how to address the continued investigative deficiencies within a set timeframe.
Describing Mrs Finucane as being in a “sorry situation” nearly four years after the Supreme Court’s declaration, the judge had ordered the current Secretary of State to reconsider the Government’s response and provide full reasons.
Lawyers for the widow argued she was entitled to compensation for the government’s failure to act on his earlier ruling.
Backing those submissions, Mr Justice Scoffield said on Thursday: "I have no doubt that the applicant in this case experienced feelings of frustration, anxiety and distress occasioned by the additional delay to which the respondent’s decisions (which I have found to be unlawful) gave rise.”
He added: “So long after Patrick Finucane’s death, each further period of culpable delay likely jeopardises the feasibility of an effective investigation.”
The judge confirmed: “I consider an award of £5,000 for the period from November 2020 to now to represent an appropriate sum to afford just satisfaction.”
Meanwhile, it also emerged that the government is set to appeal the earlier findings and order made by Mr Justice Scoffield.
Based on those legal plans, the Secretary of State made a request to be freed from a pledge to provide Mrs Finucane with a further decision on the response to the 2019 Supreme Court declaration by a deadline due to expire on Friday.
However, the judge instead decided Mr Heaton-Harris should be given more time to take his case to the Court of Appeal.
He said: “I have determined that, rather than releasing the respondent from his undertaking entirely at this stage, I should extend the time available for compliance for a further period of six weeks until May 12, 2023.”
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