Pat Finucane: decision challenged by murdered solicitor’s widow challenged by decision not to hold public inquiry

Brandon Lewis cannot be considered legally “guilty” for not organizing a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, as heard by the High Court.

The representative of the Secretary of State argued that he had the right to await the results of other police checks that related to the investigative obligations assumed by the government.

The decision was made in a lawsuit filed by the widow of the murdered lawyer.

Geraldine Finucane is seeking judicial review of Mr. Lewis for her decision not to open a public inquiry into the events surrounding the February 1989 murder, alleging that it violated her human rights.

Mr Finucane was shot and killed by loyalist paramilitaries in front of his wife and three children at their north Belfast home.

Since then, his family has been campaigning for a public inquiry to establish the full extent of the security forces’ involvement in the killing.

In February 2019, the UK Supreme Court ruled that previous investigations did not meet the standards required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since then, Ms Finucane has been involved in further legal battles against the British government’s reaction to the decision.

In November 2020, the Secretary of State announced that there would be no public inquiry at this stage because he wanted other processes run by the PSNI Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) to run their course.

He has already been ordered to pay £7,500 in compensation to Ms Finucane for the excessive delay in attaining this position.

In the current lawsuit, the widow’s lawyers argue that Mr. Lewis’s decision was irrational and illegal.

The LIB has now completed its work, and the Ombudsman’s review will not be completed until at least 2025, the court has learned.

It has been argued that only a public inquiry into the assassination will reveal the true extent of the government’s policy of “extrajudicial executions”.

Mr. Finucane has been described as the victim of a scheme in which loyalist paramilitaries infiltrated, obtained and manipulated resources to target those suspected of murder.

On the second day of the case, Paul McLaughlin QC, on behalf of the Secretary of State, admitted that the Supreme Court had clearly found a violation of Article 2 on the basis that previous inquiries had failed to “expose the various positions of state involvement”.

He insisted that Lewis was not asked not to accept these findings, or to refuse to ever hold a public inquiry once other inquiries were completed.

“From the point of view of the Secretary of State, from all the materials and information that he has collected about the processes of the PSNI and the police ombudsman, it is not his fault to allow these processes to continue if they can at least contribute to the exoneration of liability under Article 2,” the lawyer introduced.

He told the court that the police and PONI were looking into any opportunities to obtain evidence and possible misconduct, respectively.

“Where these investigations go and how they end is still unknown, but they fall under criminal liability,” he said.

“These are important elements of any Article 2 investigation.”

With regard to any powers to coerce witnesses or arrest retired police officers, he insisted that a legal obligation could still be fulfilled by voluntary presence.

Mr. McLaughlin added: “You cannot dispute the PSNI or the PONI as not having sufficient authority to do what they are tasked with, even if they do not represent the totality of what may be required in this case.”

After closing arguments, Mr. Judge Scoffield promised: “I will make a decision when I can.”