The families of six men who were killed either by police, troops or loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland have been awarded £7,500 in damages, in a landmark court judgment over delays to their inquests.

The high court in Belfast ruled on Tuesday that the damages were awarded due to the “frustration, distress and anxiety” suffered by the families. Mr Justice Stephens’ verdict could now lead to hundreds of other families suing state agencies over legacy issues to do with the Troubles and its aftermath.

The judge said the investigation into the death of a close relative affected the next of kin at a fundamental level of human dignity.

“It is obvious that if unlawful delays occur in an investigation into the death of a close relative, that this will cause feelings of frustration, distress and anxiety to the next of kin,” he said. “It would be remarkable if any applicant was emotionally indifferent as to whether there was a dilatory investigation into the death of their close relative, and such emotional indifference would be entirely inconsistent with an applicant who seeks to obtain relief by way of judicial review proceedings.

“As a matter of domestic law it would be lamentable if a premium was placed on protestations of misery. At this level of respect for human existence and for the human dignity of the next of kin of those who have died, there should be no call for a parade of personal unhappiness.”