THE scene at Belfast’s Laganside Courts on Tuesday afternoon should be one of the most instructive moments of recent times in our peace process.
A family, violently bereaved almost 50 years ago, walk out after the collapse of the trial of the two paratroopers responsible for the killing of their husband/father. They carry themselves with dignity as they explain to the media that the criminal justice system has been fixed to consistently deny them truth and justice for nearly 50 years.
On the same street, a number of others huddle to celebrate the trial’s collapse. They gloatingly elbow bump with the former minister for veterans Jonny Mercer who has flown in from London to join them.
It is a visible and tangible demonstration of state impunity and a skewing of the debate on historic truth and justice to vindicate the narrative of the British state and denigrate the rights and interests of the victims of state violence.
The collapse of the trial of the two British paratroopers who killed Joe McCann in 1972 was possible because state violations have never been investigated properly. They were deliberately treated differently in 1972 by the Royal Military Police – as discovered by Relatives for Justice – in order to ensure that British soldiers had nothing to worry about.
The same state killings, when being reinvestigated by the PSNI’s disgraced Historical Enquiries Team, were treated illegally. The objective of both processes was to secure state impunity from accountability for its role during the conflict.

But dignity and law are making little difference in the face of the perpetuation of violent denial of victims’ rights.

Justice for victims of state violence and collusion is impossible under conditions where human rights and legally compliant investigations have not taken place.  This is not a new conundrum. It is at the heart of why we need a robust independent investigative process. That process was politically agreed by both the British and Irish governments, and all of the parties at Stormont House in 2014. But yet, victims wait, while relatives die.


This matters, because the PSNI and the criminal justice system’s processes of investigation are now exposed as damned. The McCanns’ access to truth and accountability collapsed because the PSNI and the criminal justice system failed them. These are contemporary failings, securing British state impunity. In our transitional context that is unacceptable.
It is unacceptable that the Article 2 rights of all victims of the conflict, especially those affected by state and state sponsored killings, continue to be flagrantly abused.

Unacceptable for those families and unacceptable for a society that is attempting to build a peaceful future for all.
Violence on interfaces a few weeks ago drew correct attention and engaged political actors to do better. Surely the treatment of the McCann family in our courts should secure similar commitment for those worst affected by our conflict.


Families’ dignity is a credit to them. Their advocates in the form of NGOs and solicitors make considered and legally persuasive arguments held up in domestic and international courts and arenas such as the United Nations. But dignity and law are making little difference in the face of the perpetuation of violent denial of victims’ rights.
Hand-wringing and cries of legacy “toxicity” are not good enough in the face of this effrontery. Deliberate state screw-ups cannot be permitted. Law and fundamental human rights need to regain their primacy. For our transitional society, and for those victims who deserve so much more.