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Judges 'may boycott' inquiry

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

A former senior judge has warned that judges may refuse to take part in the British government's inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

A number of senior British judges are understood to have concerns about new legislation introduced specifically to deal with the planned public inquiry.

The Inquiries Act gives government ministers, rather than judges, the power to decide what information is given to an inquiry and what can be heard in public.

It has already been criticised by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory, who had recommended that a public inquiry into collusion in the 1989 murder be held, as well as the Belfast solicitor's own family.

Former Master of the Rolls in England and Wales Lord Donaldson is one of a number of senior British judges who have also warned against government attempts to encroach on the independence of the courts.

He told the Guardian: "If they get their way and they invite some judge to chair the inquiry, the first thing he'll do is to go off and see Harry Woolf [Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales] and say 'what about this, can you spare me or can't you'.

"If Harry Woolf says 'I don't think its suitable for a judge or I really can't spare you,' the judge will decline the invitation."

An unnamed appeal court judge also accused the government of trying to control the judiciary.

"Under the Inquiries Act [ministers] can direct the judge to go into private and they can direct the judge not to show documents to the other side," the judge said.

A second unnamed appeal court judge went further: "The powers they've abrogated to themselves under the Inquiries Act 2005 are really quite worrying.

"One could see the potential there for abuse. There are undoubtedly areas where the government is moving more and more to straitjacket the courts."

Hinting that judges may oppose such constraints, the judge added: "We have to acknowledge that the judges have been – and maybe it's because of this – more creative in the last five to 10 years probably than ever."

Earlier this year Lord Saville, who is chairing the Bloody Sunday Tribunal, also warned that the Inquiries Act would make "a very serious inroad into the independence of any inquiry and is likely to damage or destroy public confidence in the inquiry and its findings".

April 28, 2005

This article appeared first in the April 27, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

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