John wanted a “public explanation”… BBC NI home affairs correspondent, Vincent Kearney, reports that 49 historical cases where RUC officers were responsible for deaths, which were passed by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland because European legislation prevents the HET from investigating, cannot be investigated by the ombudsman because domestic legislation prevents the office from acting. From Vincent Kearney’s report
The Historical Enquiries Team cannot investigate them because European law states investigations into state killings must be fully independent.
As the HET is accountable to the chief constable, it cannot investigate killings by police officers.
As a result, the HET passed the files on 49 such cases to the office of the police ombudsman and as far it was concerned, the cases were being investigated by an independent body.
However, just as European law precludes the HET from investigating deaths caused by police offices, the ombudsman’s office says domestic legislation means it cannot conduct fresh investigations to determine whether any of the police officers involved in the 49 killings were guilty of a criminal offence.
That means that no matter whether years were spent investigating some killings, or perhaps just hours probing others, the police ombudsman’s office cannot launch any further investigation into what had happened.
“The legislation prohibits the office from re-investigating any matter which has previously been investigated by the police unless there is new evidence,” Olwen Laird, the acting chief executive in the office explained. [added emphasis]
“The result of that is that we appear to find ourselves in a position where the only matters now which will not be reviewed or reinvestigated are those deaths which occurred as a result of police action.”
A Supreme Court case earlier this year confirmed that the office could not re-investigate the cases.
According to Vincent Kearney’s report, “while concerns about the legal status of the cases were first raised inside the ombudsman’s office four years ago, it was only in recent months that it sought independent legal advice”. Well, 2007 was a different country…
And the proposed solution?
The ombudsman now plans to ask Justice Minister David Ford to introduce new legislation to enable its investigators to examine the killings.
Adds And as Al Hutchison said in April 2008
“In my final report as oversight commissioner I listed a number of challenges including policing the past or future. I said that both this office and the HET are blunt instruments too narrowly focused to solve society’s problems. After coming to office I’ve confirmed that is the right view but with an additional fact. Having talked to victims and families from across the board I know that they can’t be ignored and we need proper legislation to deal with that. Even if you could draw a line under the past I’m not sure you should because of the victims deserve the truth. And while getting answers can be cathartic to some there are also lessons [to] be learnt and which have been learnt.”
And then there’s the other matter…
Update And according to the latest BBC report
Baroness O’Loan said she was aware of the legal issues during her time as ombudsman.
“If an allegation was more than 12 months old it could not be investigated unless there was no previous complaint or there was a previous complaint but there was new evidence, or the matters which were previously investigated were different from those which had to be investigated,” she explained.
She said families were told if a particular case would not be considered.
“If we couldn’t investigate we would explain why we couldn’t investigate,” she said.