Does the Northern Ireland Legacy Bill impede the ECHR?

In 1998, many people across Ireland overwhelmingly endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. In 2022, the UK Parliament voted to drastically impact efforts to deal with the Northern Ireland conflict.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill defines the Troubles, establishes the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, and ends criminal investigations, prosecutions, civil actions, inquests and inquiries.

The Bill’s provisions are complex, but its 36-page ‘European Convention on Human Rights Memorandum’ provides the UK Government’s views on why the Bill is Convention-compliant.

The ECHR requires the State to investigate breaches of the substantive rights and prohibitions under each Article. The investigation must be independent, effective, prompt and reasonably expeditious.

The Memorandum comprehensively sets out the legal requirements for the ICRIR, but fails to explain how the ICRIR can meet the Article 2 requirement of an effective investigation.

The Memorandum acknowledges the general prohibition on amnesties within the ECHR framework, but relies on two Strasbourg cases to argue that the use of an amnesty can further the objective of reconciliation. This claim is highly suspect.

Protestor for the Irish Campaign Network calling for implementing the Agreement without the caveats that the ECHR memorandum of the new Legacy and Reconciliation Bill now introduces

The UK Government has never designated the Northern Ireland conflict a war, and even if it had, the circumstances would not justify a derogation from the obligation to investigate suspicious deaths and life-threatening circumstances.

The Bill amounts to a permanent derogation from Article 2 of the ECHR. No designation order has preceded the Bill.

The Legacy Bill, if enacted, would restrict the human rights framework on which the Northern Ireland peace process was built, and is therefore unlawful as a matter of domestic law.

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