JUSTICE Colton’s judgment in Belfast’s High Court today will scatter the assembled establishment pigeons of Whitehall and Westminster. 

Since lockdown bereaved families of the conflict, from all backgrounds and affected by all actors, have said that the unilateral British government proposals on Legacy, dubbed the “Bill of Shame”, rode a coach and horses through their human rights and were inhumane and cruel. As the Bill made its passage through the Houses of Parliament their voices of concern were joined by all of the political parties on this island, and all human rights advocates. Such was the concern that the Irish government lodged an inter-state case at Strasbourg.

Today Justice Colton delivered an extensive judgment which affirms the position of bereaved families and individuals tortured – that the British state is acting entirely incompatibly with Articles 2 (the right to life) and 3 (the right to be free from torture). The judgment not only draws on the European Convention on Human Rights, it also describes the legislation as incompatible with the Windsor Framework, and in particular the immunity provisions must be rescinded. Ironically the Windsor Framework has stronger remedy mechanisms, so amnesty provisions – described as worse than Pinochet’s – must go immediately.

This creates quite a moment for Declan Morgan, the head of the Act’s Legacy body the ICRIR. He told Relatives for Justice during the summer that if the legislation was found to be incompatible with the ECHR that he would consider his position. Is he considering it?

For the British government the judgment provides an opportunity. By extensively quoting Stormont House legacy provisions (agreed by both governments and all parties in 2014) it points the way to how relatives and victims of violations could have human rights compliant and trusted bodies. Remember in 2020 when the British government committed to implementing Stormont House in 100 days?

Chris Heaton Harris and Rishi Sunak could decide today that they will leave this affair behind and get back to Stormont House, informed by this whole debacle and understanding what cannot work. And today’s vindication for families could be respected and valued. If they wanted to.

Mark Thompson is Director of Relatives for Justice.