Over 20 inquests into controversial killings by British and pro-British forces in the north of Ireland can proceed after a suspension on the probes was lifted this week.
The tribunals, ordered by Attorney General John Larkin QC, had been put on hold when senior coroner John Leckey questioned whether he had exceeded his powers.
It was confirmed on Monday that Mr Leckey had lifted his suspension issued in November last year when he expressed uncertainty over the right of the Six-County attorney general, appointed in 2010, to authorise them.
At the time the coroner cited potential British security issues which are normally considered to lie outside the powers of local Irish officials.
Since the suspension of the inquests at the end of last year, the families involved have had to endure considerable stress and anxiety. Some have now been waiting for over forty years for proper inquests and the decision by Mr Leckey to suspend them without consulting the families was strongly criticised.
Lawyers for a number of the families launched legal challenges, claiming that the move was unlawful and procedurally unfair.
The deaths which were due to be scrutinised include that of 11-year-old Francis Rowntree, who was killed by a rubber bullet fired by a soldier in west Belfast in 1972.
Another is the case of Gerard Slane, a father-of-three shot dead by the UDA at his home in the city in 1988 in apparent collusion with British Crown forces.
Proceedings were also brought on behalf of relatives of Gerard Casey, murdered by the UDA/UFF in Rasharkin, County Antrim, in 1989; Danny Doherty and William Fleming, shot dead by the British Army’s SAS in Derry in 1984; and Francis Bradley, killed by the SAS near Castledawson, County Derry, in 1986; and the victims of the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre.
A full hearing of the families’ judicial review challenge had been due to take place next week.
However, in court yesterday the case was brought to an end. The judge was told there was no longer any requirement for the challenge.
Outside the court lawyer Paul Pierce of Kevin R Winters, representing Mr Slane’s widow Teresa, said: “We welcome the decision by the coroner to lift the suspension in relation to these inquests.
“It’s unfortunate that the coroner did not give Teresa Slane the opportunity to ad dress these issues in advance of taking that decision.
“Had he done so there would have been no need to bring these judicial review proceedings challenging the decision, which has only result ed in further delay for the Slane family.
“The inquest will now proceed and we ask the coroner to list it for a further preliminary hearing as soon as possible.”
Sinn Féin Assembly member Raymond McCartney said the decision by coroner John Leckey to suspend the inquests was disappointing and had been “proved pointless”.
“At the time of the suspension there was a complete lack of respect and sensitivity shown to the families concerned,” he said.
“The families deserve the truth about the killing of their loved ones and they have already waited too long.”
BLOODY SUNDAY ‘INSULT’
Meanwhile, a relative of one of the Bloody Sunday victims has branded a financial compensation offer as an insult to their loved one’s memory.
Despite a well-attended commemorate march for justice in Derry last month, both the Stormont and Westminster administrations have sought to delay a police investigation into the massacre. In 2010, the report of the (second) Bloody Sunday Inquiry finally found the British military culpable in the killings and injuries inflicted on January 30, 1972.
It emerged this week that each of the Bloody Sunday families, as well as the 13 people wounded in the infamous British massacre of January 30 1972, were to be offered the sum of fifty thousands pounds in compensation.
While most of the families refused to comment on the offer, the lawyer representing one said his client believed the amount to be an insult.
The family of another victim, 19-year-old William Nash, said they were not interested in any compensation.
Linda Nash said her family were only interested in having the British soldier who killed her brother brought to justice.