Finucane campaign for public inquiry continues
BY LAURA FRIEL
Campaigners pressing for an independent public inquiry into the killing of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane are to present a 30-page document outlining their case to the Dublin government this week. Geraldine Finucane and other members of the Finucane family, Jane Winters of British Irish Rights Watch, Paul Mageean of the Belfast-based Committee for the Administration of Justice and Mark Lawlor of Amnesty International, will attend the meeting. The Dublin government has already described the case for an inquiry as ``compelling''.
Pat Finucane was killed in February 1989 when a number of masked gunmen broke into his home and shot him in front of his family. Since then, there has been repeated allegations of crown forces collusion in his death and widespread calls for a fully independent public inquiry into the allegation and circumstances surrounding the shooting.
The degree of support for an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane is unprecedented. The domestic and international legal community have spoken with one voice
Twelve months ago, the British government indicated that fresh consideration was being given to calls for such an inquiry. Despite assurances that the decision would be made ``within weeks'', a year has passed and no official decision has been announced.
Campaigners believe that a refusal by the British government to call an inquiry is not only at odds with their own criteria governing the implementation of legislation regarding inquiries, but is also a clear breach of the government's obligations under international law.
The legislation governing the holding of public inquiries, the Tribunal and Inquiries Act of 1921, primarily deals with the powers of the inquiry once it has been set up. The Salmon Commission of 1966 and the criteria of previous inquiries provide a guideline as to when a public inquiry should be called. The commission stated that an inquiry should be called in response to ``a nationwide crisis of confidence.''
Since 1921, the British government has invoked the act around 20 times and the focus of these inquiries has been allegations of serious misconduct by the government or public officials. These inquiries have included investigations into allegations of political corruption, police brutality, the Aberfan landslide disaster and the events of Bloody Sunday.
In 1998, when the British prime minister Tony Blair tabled a resolution to establish the current inquiry into Bloody Sunday, he stated that the particular circumstances of Bloody Sunday merited the establishment of a judicial inquiry. Campaigners on behalf of Pat Finucane believe the case meets the same criteria as that evoked by Blair in relation to Bloody Sunday. ``Where the state's own authorities are concerned we must be as sure as we can of the truth,'' said Blair.
The crisis of confidence provoked by the killing of Pat Finucane, and further intensified with the recent death of Lurgan defence lawyer Rosemary Nelson has extended far beyond either Britain and Ireland - it is not just ``nationwide'' but international. As campaigners will be pointing out to the Dublin government, the degree of support for an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane is unprecedented.
``The domestic and international legal community have spoken with one voice in calling for an inquiry,'' says the document. Supporters include the Northern Ireland Law Society, the Northern Ireland Bar, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Chairperson of the Bar of England and Wales, the Irish Law Society, the Irish Bar, the American Bar Association and the International Bar Association.
Human rights groups supporting the call for a public inquiry include the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, which has called twice for the establishment of an inquiry, the Independent Scrutineer of Emergency Legislation, the Independent Commissioner for the Holding Centres, the International Commission of Jurists, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Federation International des Droits de l'Homme, the Committee for the Administrations of Justice and British Irish Rights Watch.
The major significance of the Finucane case, argues the document, lies not in the guilt or innocence of any particular individual but in the suggestion of state involvement. The report describes the inadequacies of the previous investigations by British police Chief John Stevens, neither of which have been published.
It is unclear to what extent these investigations focused on allegations of collusion into the Finucane killing. In 1999, John Stevens insisted that he had ``at no time'' ever previously investigated the death of Pat Finucane but that his inquiries into collusion ``were linked to the murder of Pat Finucane''. Stevens is currently heading an investigation into the Finucane murder.
Campaigners believe that a refusal by the British government to call a public inquiry would be in breach of their obligations under European Law. Under the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission of Human Rights, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires not just the protection of life but taken together with Articles 6 and 13, also requires careful, independent and effective investigation once there has been loss of life.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Martin Finucane said: ``The time has come for the British government to announce an inquiry into the murder of my brother Pat Finucane. Everything that has come to light points ever more sharply for this to happen. There is now only one honourable response to our demand for an inquiry. The Prime Minister Tony Blair, who possesses all of the answers to the questions we have raised, must establish an independent judicial inquiry without any further delay or prevarication.''