NI govt 'unlawfully' delayed Troubles pension scheme, rules High Court

The High Court in Belfast has today (21 August) ruled that the Northern Ireland (NI) Executive Office (EO) was acting "unlawfully" in delaying the introduction of a pension scheme for victims of the Troubles.

Mr Justice McAlinden ruled that the EO had refused to designate a department to administer the scheme, in turn “stymieing the implementation of the scheme” in order to pressure the Secretary of State for NI to make a different scheme funded by Westminster, with different entitlement rules.

He ruled that it is “clearly unlawful” for the EO to “deliberately refuse” to comply with a legal requirement set out in a legislative scheme promulgated by Westminster in order to force changes to that legislative scheme.

Furthermore, he ruled that in circumstances where the 2020 regulations do not make specific provision for funding of the scheme, the permissive language contained may impose a duty on the EO to provide grant funding to the designated department.

He clarified that such a duty could arise immediately upon the designation of a department, and that the circumstances in which such a duty would arise would include the situation
where the EO has already succeeded in obtaining funding from the Department of Finance for the establishment and operation of the Victims’ Payments scheme.

The scheme, which should have opened to applications in May, has faced numerous delays since being signed into legislation in January, with victims of the Troubles beginning legal action following ongoing confusion as to who should fund and operate the scheme in May.

NI political party, Sinn Féin, previously denied claims from the UK government that it was responsible for holding up pension payments to victims of the troubles by refusing to nominate a department to run the scheme over concerns that its eligibility rules were "discriminatory".

However, the UK government published further guidance detailing the eligibility criteria for the Troubles victims’ pension scheme earlier this month, reiterating that those injured “at their own hand”, or with a criminal conviction where they were found to have caused serious harm to someone else, will not be eligible for the compensation.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary, Lord Peter Hain, had also previously highlighted the delays and legal issues facing the scheme in the House of Lords, pledging to “hound” the government until Stormont was "held accountable for its shocking - and illegal - refusal to implement the law".

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