Family of murdered Belfast solicitor loses Supreme Court case

The family of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane has lost a Supreme Court challenge over the decision not to hold a public inquiry into his killing, but won a declaration that an effective investigation into his death has not been carried out.

Mr Finucane was shot dead in front of his family in February 1989 by loyalists in an attack found to have involved collusion with the state.

The 39-year-old was shot 14 times while enjoying Sunday lunch at home with his family.

His widow Geraldine claimed the Government unlawfully “reneged” on a promise to hold a public inquiry into the killing – one of the most notorious of the Troubles – when former prime minister David Cameron instead ordered an independent review.

Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane
Pat Finucane was shot dead in front of his family in February 1989 (PA)

An investigation by former UN war crimes prosecutor Sir Desmond de Silva QC found “shocking” levels of state collusion involving the army, police and MI5, but ruled out an “overarching state conspiracy”.

On Wednesday, just over 30 years on from her husband’s murder, the Supreme Court in London ruled that Mrs Finucane had been given “an unequivocal undertaking to hold a public inquiry into Mr Finucane’s death”, but that the “change of heart on the part of the government” was made in good faith.

Giving the judgment of the court, Lord Kerr found that the decision not to hold a public inquiry into the murder was a matter for the Government’s “political judgment”.

He also dismissed Mrs Finucane’s contention that the decision was predetermined, stating: “There is simply no sustainable evidence that the process by which the decision was taken was a sham or that the outcome was predetermined.”

But the court also ruled that the de Silva review was not compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which required the investigation to be provided with “the means where, if they can be, suspects are identified and, if possible, brought to account”.

Pat Finucane's widow Geraldine
Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine claimed the Government unlawfully “reneged” on a promise to hold a public inquiry into his killing (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Lord Kerr declared that there has not been an effective investigation into Mr Finucane’s murder, but added: “It does not follow that a public inquiry of the type which (Mrs Finucane) seeks must be ordered.

“It is for the state to decide… what form of investigation, if indeed any is now feasible, is required in order to meet that requirement.”

At a hearing in June, Barry Macdonald QC said Mr Finucane was a victim of “a policy of systemic extra-judicial execution that was as cynical and sinister as can be imagined”.

He told the Supreme Court that “loyalist terrorist organisations were infiltrated, resourced and manipulated in order to murder individuals identified by the army and the police as suitable for assassination”.

Mr Macdonald said this policy was “widened” to include lawyers such as Mr Finucane, who represented a number of high-profile republicans.

He concluded: “The police, the army and the security service, MI5, are all implicated in a policy that entailed identifying lawyers with their clients and legitimising them as targets for assassination.”

He added: “In other words, state-sponsored terrorism.”

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