Belfast Court Rules Against Granting Immunity for ‘Troubles’ Violence

A Belfast court ruled on Wednesday that a new British law granting people immunity from prosecution for crimes committed during Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian conflict — known as the Troubles — would be a breach of human rights.

The British government introduced the legislation, known as the Legacy Act, last year, aiming to “promote reconciliation” in the region, despite opposition from every political party there. The law would halt all inquests, civil actions and cold-case reviews of Troubles-related cases that have not been resolved by May 1, and redirect them to an independent commission.

Crucially, the law also includes provisions for conditional amnesty for people suspected of crimes committed during the Troubles, including serious offenses.

Wednesday’s decision, by the High Court in Belfast, was the result of a judicial review that it carried out after victims and families affected by the Troubles brought the issue to the court. Judge Adrian Colton, who delivered the ruling, said he believed that granting immunity from prosecution under the act would breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although the complex ruling is likely not to affect Britain’s ability to carry out parts of the law as soon as May 1, legal experts say it is a major blow to the country’s already fragile Conservative government, whose support has been falling in the polls before an election that will be held within the next year.

The Troubles, the decades of sectarian conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities that enveloped Northern Ireland from 1968 until 1998, left some 3,600 people dead in bombings and shootings until the Good Friday peace agreement ended the violence.

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