United Kingdom: Public Inquiry Into the Patrick Finucane Murder | Letter

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Patrick Finucane, lawyer

February 23, 2005

The Right Honourable Tony Blair
10 Downing Street
London, England

The Right Honourable Lord Goldsmith
Attorney General’s Chambers
9 Buckingham Gate
London, England

Dear Sirs:
Re: A. Lawyers’ Rights Watch of Canada (LRWC)
B. Murder of Mr. Patrick Finucane, Solicitor, February 12, 1989
C. Hearing under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921; and
D. International Response to the Finucane Case – Appendix 1

Lawyers’ Rights Watch of Canada (LRWC) is a committee of Canadian lawyers that supports the rule of law and human rights internationally by campaigning:

  1. for implementation of adequate independence and security safeguards for lawyers;
  2. in support of lawyers in danger because of their advocacy; and
  3. against impunity for violators of advocates’ rights.

LRWC Position
LRWC joins with the Finucane family and other interveners to demand that the United Kingdom government immediately institute an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act of 1921 (“1921 Act”) into the 1989 murder in Northern Ireland of lawyer Patrick Finucane. The inquiry must comply with national and international standards including those set out in the UN Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal and Summary Executions. These standards require that such an inquiry be:

  1. independent of all government agencies accused or alleged to be culpable by omission or commission;
  2. empowered to compel testimony and the production of documents;
  3. transparent;
  4. empowered to exhaustively investigate all of the unresolved allegations of collusion by government agents; and
  5. empowered to recommend appropriate prosecutions.

On September 24, 2004, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy announced that there would be “an inquiry” into the Finucane case, but “In order that the inquiry can take place speedily and effectively and in a way that takes into account the public interest, including the requirements of national security, it will be necessary to hold the inquiry on the basis of new legislation”. He later told the media that the Finucane case would mostly be heard in private, and that he could not guarantee that the family would be allowed to be present. Subsequently, in November 2004, the government introduced the Inquiries Bill into the House of Lords. Should it be enacted into law, the Inquiries Bill will not protect the public interest, nor the interests of Mr. Finucane’s surviving family. The proposed legislation is constitutionally aberrant and an inquiry into the Finucane case held under its provisions would not meet the requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as set out in Jordan v. the United Kingdom. We believe that a proper public inquiry into the Finucane case must be immediate, transparent and capable of ascertaining the full details surrounding the murder of Patrick Finucane and all those involved. The Inquiries Bill as currently formulated will do nothing to achieve these goals.

One of the cardinal functions served by lawyers in a democracy is to stand between the state and the individual; to protect the individual from the state and to uphold the rule of law; to ensure that the law functions as the guardian of justice and a guarantee against tyranny; not as the instrument of tyranny. Patrick Finucane was such a lawyer. His death and the lack of an effective official response certainly contributed to the subsequent murder of Rosemary Nelson and intimidation of other lawyers in Northern Ireland. Without the assurances of security and independence, these professionals will be unable to adequately defend individuals in courts of law. The unfortunate consequence of this will be the deterioration of the important balance between the State and the individual. In the absence of a full and effective investigation of Finucane’s murder and prosecutions of all those responsible, no advocates are safe and rights enforcement is illusory and becomes something that occurs at the pleasure of the state. It is clear that Patrick Finucane suffered reprisals solely for his professional role. Those reprisals, while taken by terrorists, were also the product of collusive action by FRU, RUC SB and MI5.

At the Coroner’s Inquest police refuted the claim that Mr. Finucane was a member of an extremist group and described him as a law-abiding citizen going about his “professional duties in a professional manner.” Ten years later, Sir Ronnie Flannigan, Chief Constable from 1996 to 2002, re-emphasized that Mr. Finucane, along with Rosemary Nelson, were both “highly professional solicitors doing nothing than their professional best to represent the interest of their clients.”

Rosemary Nelson, a Human Rights Lawyer practicing in Northern Ireland, testified before the U.S. House International Relations Committee on September 29, 1998. Ms. Nelson emphasized the continuing significance of the Finucane matter for lawyers practicing in Northern Ireland. She stated:

Since then [July 1997] my clients have reported an increasing number of incidents when I have been abused by RUC officer, including several death threats against myself and members of my family. I have also received threatening telephone calls and letters. Although I have tried to ignore these threats, inevitably I have had to take account of the possible consequences for my family and for my staff. No lawyer in Northern Ireland can forget what happened to Patrick Finucane or dismiss it from their minds.

On March 16, 1999, the Irish News reported Rosemary Nelson criticizing RUC inaction in the face of continuing illegal loyalist activities: “The law has been flouted openly…It is not about conflicting rights here, it is about the rule of law.”

The day before that interview was published, Rosemary Nelson was murdered by a bomb exploding under her car. A small loyalist splinter group, the Red Hand Defenders, claimed responsibility.

A public inquiry into the Finucane murder must be convened immediately under the terms of the 1921 Act, and conducted in a transparent fashion. Without the powers of a full and independent inquiry, the malignant atmosphere surrounding Mr. Finucane’s murder will prevail. Any other inquiry of lesser means will ring hollow and will do nothing more than further entrench those who seek ongoing conflict.

The unresolved murder of Mr. Finucane will remain an obstacle to peace in Northern Ireland. Truth must be heard and those responsible must reconcile with the larger community before anyone can anticipate a hopeful future.

Yours truly,
Hugh Gwillim
Barrister & Solicitor