1 May 2024

Establishment of the ICRIR & 1 May Deadline – What Does it Mean for Victims and Survivors?

You have likely seen the phrase “1 May deadline” appearing in the news and on social media more frequently over the past few weeks. Here is what you need to know:

For many victims and survivors of the Troubles/conflict, Wednesday 1 May 2024 marks a drastic change to avenues of truth, justice and accountability processes – as a key aspect of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 (the Act) comes into effect.

This date marks the deadline for inquests into Troubles-related incidents to either have concluded all evidence or be discontinued, with a few exceptions made on a case-by-case basis should an inquest be deemed far enough along in its proceedings.  This means that on 1 May, inquests (which sit with the coroner) and criminal investigations (which sit with the PSNI Legacy Investigation Branch), will stop. However, where outstanding issues are administrative only i.e. there is no more investigatory work required, investigations or inquests will be permitted to continue and conclude beyond the deadline.

The Police Ombudsman confirmed that it seeks to conclude 95 Troubles-related cases within the next year. This leaves 281 outstanding cases that will not begin an investigatory process following a request, and 54 that will discontinue due to the investigation stage not having concluded by 1 May.

Troubles-related incidents that occurred between 1 January 1966 and 10 April 1998 fall under the parameters of the Act.

These changes will be implemented in accordance with the Act, which passed into law in September 2023 with much controversy and criticism from victims and survivors, victims’ groups and politicians across local parties.

It is important to note that any criminal investigations which currently sit with the PSNI Legacy Investigation Branch that have not concluded by 1 May will not automatically transfer over to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) – which becomes operational on 1 May. Should victims or survivors wish to engage with the ICRIR, an application requesting an investigation must be submitted directly to the new investigatory body.

Many victims and survivors have fought hard to secure inquests into incidents involving themselves or loved ones, in many cases a tiring process of providing testimony and recalling traumatic memories has been necessary in the process to secure truth and justice. To complete a similar process again with the ICRIR risks the re-traumatisation of victims and survivors.

The key difference between state inquests/investigations and investigations to be undertaken by the ICRIR is the potential for a conditional immunity scheme.  That perpetrators who co-operate with ICRIR investigations may receive immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony.

The effectiveness of this form of truth-seeking has been questioned by victims and survivors in comparison to the current inquest and criminal investigation processes and has been regarded as a circumvention of justice for victims and their families.

This aspect of the Act is, however, subject to an appeal hearing in the NI Court of Appeal due to take place following the Dillon Judgement. In February 2024, Judge Adrian Colton ruled that the conditional immunity outlined in the Act does not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, after a challenge led by Martina Dillon, John McEvoy and Lynda McManus.

However, at the same hearing Judge Colton also ruled that he could not say that the new system established under the Act is unable to carry out ECHR compliant investigations.

It is important to clarify that conditional immunity is not offered by the ICRIR as a result of the Dillon judgement.

At least 30 legal challenges have been brought against the UK government concerning the Act, as well as an interstate case from the Republic of Ireland on human rights grounds.

The Commission and its Victims and Survivors Forum sought to improve the Legacy legislation after its publication in May 2022.  This included an event with representatives from the House of Lords, and meetings with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to discuss concerns with the Bill, its impact on victims and to push for amendments that could make the legislation more victim centred. Click here to read our position paper on the Legacy Bill from January 2023.

The Commission acknowledges that this is an uncertain time for victims and survivors. 

We are committed to closely monitoring the ICRIR’s delivery following 1 May 2024, and any subsequent changes or challenges concerning the Legacy Act.  The Commission firmly maintains its position that the voice of victims and survivors must be the primary leader in dialogue surrounding truth, justice and accountability.

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