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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2004 - United Kingdom

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 14 April 2005
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2004 - United Kingdom, 14 April 2005, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Progress on the investigation into the murders of Mr. Patrick Finucane and Mrs. Rosemary Nelson100

On 21 January 2004, the High Court of Justice in Belfast admitted the application of the families of Mrs. Rosemary Nelson and Mr. Patrick Finucane to reverse the decision of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy. On October 2003, Mr. Murphy had refused to make public the report by Canadian judge Peter Cory, mandated by the British and Irish Governments to inquire into collusion between members of the British security forces and Northern Irish paramilitaries in the murders of Mrs. Rosemary Nelson and Mr. Patrick Finucane.101

Judge Cory's report, which recommended in particular the opening of a public inquiry into the two murders, was finally made public on 1 April 2004. At the same time, the British Government announced its determination to appoint a panel as soon as possible to inquire into the murder of Mrs. Nelson. However, they refused to open a public inquiry into the murder of Mr. Finucane.

On 16 November 2004, Mr. Murphy announced the members of the panel that would inquire into the murder of Mrs. Nelson. The Secretary of State declared that the "inquiry will have full powers to compel disclosure of documents and attendance of witnesses". He added that the panel would start working as soon as possible.

Concerning the Finucane case, the Government agreed to re-examine the case once the trial in progress is over, contrary to Judge Cory's recommendations and although a legal decision of October 1999 establishing that a criminal trial in progress should not prevent a public inquiry into collusion by the British security services.

In this respect, the trial of Mr. Kenneth Barrett, a suspect arrested in 2003, began on 13 September 2004. On 16 September 2004, after pleading guilty from the opening of the trial, the accused, a former loyalist paramilitary, was given a life sentence for the murder of Mr. Finucane.

On 23 September 2004, although there was no longer any obstacle to opening a public inquiry, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that an inquiry would be opened only on the basis of a new law that would have to be passed by Parliament and not on the basis of the law that usually governs public inquiries (Tribunal of Inquiry Act /1921).

On 26 November 2004, the British Government released its Inquiries Bill. The bill has been strongly criticised because it severely restricts the independence of public inquiries. Indeed, the Government, and no longer the Parliament, has oversight of public inquiries and the text gives the Government the power to define the mandate of an inquiry, to appoint the presiding judge, to close some hearings to the public, and to prevent the publication of evidence or of the inquiry's findings. Mr. Finucane's family has announced that they will not collaborate in an inquiry based on such a law.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website ( was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

100. Idem.

101. Mrs. Nelson, a lawyer and member of the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), was murdered on 15 March 1999 in Lurgan, Northern Ireland. Mr. Finucane, a lawyer known for his views in favour of human rights, was murdered in Belfast in 1989.

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