28 September 2022

Legacy Bill: “A poor piece of law that we’re forced to work with”

– Victims’ Commissioner and Forum meet Lords in advance of Legacy Bill reading

“This Bill is fundamentally flawed and still raises huge legal concerns, but ultimately is likely to pass through Parliament in the months ahead.”  

That is the difficult reality facing Victims’ Commissioner, Ian Jeffers as he, along with members of the Victims and Survivors Forum prepare to meet with members of the House of Lords today. 

Speaking in advance of the Lords’ second reading of the controversial Legacy Bill next week, Jeffers outlined his stance that “both the Forum and I are completely opposed to this Bill. That part I cannot stress enough.  

“But I have a duty to advocate in the interests of victims and survivors and when faced with the reality that I cannot stop the Bill from going through, I have to push for amendments that make it in some way more victim-sensitive and that is the purpose of this paper, and with meeting with Peers in Westminster.  

“Having members of the Victims’ Forum there gives those Lords the opportunity to hear first-hand the impact the debates and discussions in the weeks ahead have on individuals’ lives.  

“There seems to be this narrative at play that seeking truth, justice or accountability means victims and survivors want to hold Northern Ireland back. This is wrong and it is not a fair representation of them. What they want is for their rights to be respected, and for themselves and their families to have avenues to move forward and experience the benefits of peace the majority of society has been afforded.”  

The Commission’s position paper makes six key recommendations including access to inquests being left open, giving victims and survivors the opportunity to provide a victim impact statement in the reports produced by proposed Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, ensuring information that can grant immunity is effectively verified, and more technical points including definition clarifications and raising the penalty for non-compliance with investigations from the intended £1,000. 

Minty Thompson, whose mother Kathleen was shot dead in her backyard in 1971, a killing that was recently deemed unjustified through an inquest, stated “having my mother’s name publicly cleared and a judge saying her killing was unjustified, she was an innocent civilian, that was the accountability we needed as a family. Nothing can make up for a lost childhood, but we took comfort from this judgement.  

“I can’t even imagine where we would be if that was suddenly taken away from us, and that’s what this Bill is proposing doing to other families just like ours. It is just immoral and the people who write up these proposals just cannot comprehend the hurt they cause.” 

Speaking on the recommendation for including a Victim Impact Statement, Forum member Paul Gallagher who was shot and permanently injured in his home by loyalists says, “For victims, the incident itself isn’t the end of the story and that’s another problem with this Bill. 

It gives the perpetrator the opportunity, in law, to justify their actions but victims’ voices are completely lost. That needs to be fixed.” 

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