Creu Prydain Decach
18 May 2011
The legal obligation of the state to investigate deaths in which it may have been involved, has been reinforced by a Supreme Court ruling today.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the test case because the landmark decision will apply to other difficult and controversial cases in the UK where the state may have an obligation to hold an inquest.
Under UK and European law the state has a duty both to protect people's lives and to carry out a proper investigation when it may have contravened the ultimate human right - the right to life.
The Supreme Court agreed with the Commission's argument that the European Convention on Human Rights should apply even where the death in question happened before the UK's Human Rights Act 1998 came into force on 2 October 2000.
The Court also made it clear that historic deaths which were not investigated or which were investigated but where the process was not compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, will not be reopened unless there are exceptional circumstances.
John Wadham, Group Director Legal, at the Commission said:
'Our interest in this case is about the general principles involved, not the specific individuals who died. Where the state may have had a hand in the deaths of people, then the circumstances should be properly investigated and lessons learned where necessary.
'There are often long delays, sometimes years, between an unexplained death and an inquest hearing. This is an issue which we are planning to raise directly with the Government.'
For more press information contact the Commission's media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.
For general enquiries please contact the Commission's national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.
Details of this ruling can be found on the Supreme Court website (PDF).
The test case relates to the deaths of Martin McCaughey and Dessie Grew who were shot and killed in Northern Ireland in October 1990 by the British Army. It is alleged they were victims of a shoot-to-kill policy and that they were wanted in connection to the IRA. It will now be the subject of an open and transparent inquest following the Supreme Court ruling.
Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights sets out a positive duty on the State to protect the right to life, which includes a procedural obligation on the State to take measures to investigate following a death in circumstances where the state may have been involved. Such an investigation is one which is:
The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.