Human Rights

1The ECtHR
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is an international court which can hear complaints about the actions of states who are parties to the European Convention on Human Rights about alleged breaches of the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The role of the ECtHR is to ensure that member states operate their government and legal systems in a way which protect and uphold the most fundamental of human rights, such as the right to life, the right to a fair trial and the right to privacy. The court will only hear a case when all domestic legal remedies have been exhausted.

At Ó Muirigh Solicitors we have experience of pursuing legal challenges to the ECtHR and can provide advice and assistance at all stages of this process.

McDonnell v UK (Application no. 19563/11)

We represented the mother of James McDonnell, a 36 year old prisoner who died after being restrained by prison wardens in Maghaberry Prison in 1996.She took a case to the ECtHR due to the excessive delay by the state in holding an inquest into the death in custody of her son.

The court found the UK were in breach of its obligations under Article 2 of the Convention and awarded damages to the applicant.
2Strategic Litigation
Internment Civil Action

We represent over two hundred former internees who have commenced legal proceedings against the British MoD, the RUC, and the British Secretary of State in relation to legality of Internment without trial which was introduced in the north of Ireland in 1971.

The legality of Internment of persons brought under both the Special Powers Act 1922 and the Detention of Terrorist Order 1972 has been brought into fresh focus by the recent release of official papers under the 30 year rule.

These papers demonstrate not only the existence of a discriminatory policy against the nationalist community, but also the indiscriminate nature of the arrests by the army. There is fresh evidence to lay before a court that the arbitrary implementation of statutory powers under the 1922 Act and the 1972 Order by those public authorities charged with the exercise of the relevant powers of arrest and detention constituted misfeasance in public office.

Legacy Inquiries / Legacy Litigation / Legacy Inquests

We are widely regarded as leading practitioners in this area of law in the north of Ireland. We represent hundreds of families in relation to ongoing Police Ombudsman/PSNI Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) investigations into the death of their loved ones and related civil actions against the PSNI and/or Ministry of Defence (MoD) in relation to allegations of collusion by state agencies and loyalist paramilitaries in the death of their loved ones during the recent conflict.

We have the largest legacy inquest practice in this jurisdiction and have developed a niche in assisting families with applications to the Attorney-General to re-open inquests under section 14 of the Coroners Act (NI) 1959.

It is our experience that the primary objective of any bereaved family in such cases is to find out as much information as possible about the circumstances of the death, particularly where the state or state agents have been responsible for the death of their loved one; to make sense out of their grief at the loss of their loved one; and to ensure that lessons are learnt from their own tragedy so that others may not have to suffer as they might have done.

We provide advice, assistance and representation in relation to any investigation into the death, whether carried out by the PSNI, Police Ombudsman or Historical Enquiries Team (HET) or PSNI Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB), and any inquest that might have to take place before a Coroner's Court. Throughout, we liaise with those responsible in an effort to ensure that any inquiry is a process that is as open, transparent and accountable, and where necessary, compliant with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

From the outset, we liaise with the relevant state agencies in relation to requests for relevant documentation. We work closely with independent pathologists and other relevant experts to ensure that all available forensic evidence has been captured and interpreted properly. Where appropriate, we seek to ensure that any other independent evidence that might be available from witnesses is obtained and made available to the investigation of the death.

In the event that individual officers are suspected of having caused or contributed to the death, we seek to ensure that those officers are brought to account for their conduct. Where necessary, we provide advice, assistance and representation in relation to any formal complaint process that might have to be initiated or any challenge that may have to be brought against decisions made by the relevant authorities.

At an appropriate stage, we provide advice, assistance and representation in relation to other routes to achieve redress, including civil proceedings against the state.
High Profile Cases
1Ballymurphy Massacre Inquests
We represent the families of ten innocent people who were killed by the British Army in Ballymurphy area of West Belfast between the 9th-11th August 1971. This incident has become widely known as the ‘Ballymurphy Massacre’.

In 1970 an agreement was reached between the General Officer Commanding the British Army(GOC) and the Chief Constable of the RUC, whereby in an investigation into the use of lethal force by military personnel, the interviewing of soldiers would be carried out by the Royal Military Police, another branch of the army ‘family tree’. The Agreement continued until it was abolished after the imposition of Direct Rule in 1972 and the establishment of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

During the period when the Agreement was in force, soldiers who engaged in the use of lethal force were not subject to the rigours of the legal system, nor were they rendered accountable, in any way, for their use of lethal force. The RUC/British Army Agreement was a significant usurpation of the police responsibility for the investigation of crime when the suspects were soldiers.

That the procedures were hopelessly inadequate as a method for investigating the criminal conduct of soldiers has been expressly recognised by the High Court in Belfast in the case of Thompson v. Secretary of State.

The soldiers involved in firing live rounds in Ballymurphy in August 1971 were interviewed by the RMP. There was no attempt to probe these accounts, nor was there any attempt made to address the inconsistencies between the various soldier’s accounts. It is moreover apparent that there was nothing approaching a proper RUC investigation into the incident. Whilst there was civilian evidence to contradict the soldier’s accounts, particularly as regards their justification for firing live rounds, these accounts were never put to the soldiers and their accounts were simply accepted without question.

Inconsistencies in the soldiers accounts were deliberately withheld from the Coroner. In addition, the non compelibililty of soldier’s to give evidence to the Coroner’s Court, the lack of pre-inquest disclosure to the families or their legal representatives and the inability of the Coroner’s court to reach ‘findings’ meant that the original inquests into those murdered in the Ballymurphy Massacre were flawed.

The legal regulation of inquests in the north of Ireland has been subject to penetrating changes since the original inquests. These changes to the Inquest system have, in large part, been due to legal challenges by the families of victims of state killings. Those who have suffered the abuses often learn from this and employ the law as a tool to focus attention on the violation!

It was in this context that our office, on behalf of the Ballymurphy Massacre families, made an application to the Attorney-General to exercise his powers under section 14 of the Coroner’s Act 1959 to re-open the inquests. Fresh inquests have since been directed by the Attorney-General, John Larkin QC into the deaths of Fr Hugh Mullan, Francis Quinn, Daniel Teggart, Joan Connolly, Joseph Murphy, Noel Phillips, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr and John McKerr. We await a hearing date for these inquests.
2Springhill Massacre Inquests
We successfully applied to the Attorney General to direct a fresh inquest into the deaths of Margaret Gargan, John Dougal, Patrick Joseph Butler, David McCafferty who were shot and killed by the British on the 9 July 1972 in the Westrock area of West Belfast. Fr Noel Fitzpatrick was also killed in the same incident. These events have become known as the ‘Springhill Massacre’.

John Dougal, was aged 16 years old when he was shot when he went to the assistance of a man wounded by a sniper firing from Corry’s Timber yard, where British Army snipers were said to have been located. Margaret Gargan, a 14 year old school girl was shot shortly afterwards on Westrock Drive by shots also from the same timber yard where the Army were based. Fr Noel Fitzpatrick and David McCafferty, who was also just 14 years old, were going to the assistance of Margaret Gargan when they were shot by a sniper based on the timber yard. Statements from the original Inquest suggest that Patrick Butler had been giving assistance to the wounded when shot and killed.
3Kelly’s Bar
Shortly after 5pm on Saturday the 13th May 1972, a loyalist car bomb exploded without warning outside Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road.

19 year old John Moran, who had been working as a barman at Kelly’s, died ten days later from injuries sustained in the explosion. Gerard Clarke who was seriously injured in the explosion succumbed to his injuries on the 6th of September 1989. Sixty six people were also injured in the explosion.

As survivors were being ferried to hospital by ambulance UVF gunmen opened fire from Ballysillan at the bomb site killing Thomas McIlroy, who was also employed as a barman in Kelly’s Bar.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion the British security services reported that the device was an IRA bomb that had exploded prematurely. The official denial of loyalist responsibility, coupled with the allegation that the IRA was responsible for the attack, followed a pattern established with the bombing of McGurk’s Bar five months previously.

A British Army Lance Corporal claimed, in an interview to the local media (see Appendix 4), that he had seen a number of men park the car containing the bomb go into the bar and when they returned to the car it exploded. The suggestion being that those killed or injured were themselves responsible for the bomb.

The propaganda and the lies disseminated by the British security services were also perpetuated by the British political leadership in Westminster. Five days after the attack on Kelly’s Bar the British Secretary of State, William Whitelaw, told the British Parliament that responsibility for the bomb rested with the IRA.

Whilst the British security services managed media disinformation after the incident, they also deliberately mismanaged any serious investigation into it. There was no proper investigation by the RUC into the circumstances surrounding the attack on Kelly’s Bar. Evidence which could substantiate the families’ version of events was ignored. No lines of inquiry were ever followed, other than those that misdirected the focus of the investigation towards the Republican ‘own goal’ theory.

Our office are representing the Kelly’s Bar families in relation to an ongoing Police Ombudsman investigation and a fresh inquest into the death of John Moran which was directed by the Attorney General after an application by our office.
4Rubber / Plastic Bullets
We represent a number of families whose loved ones were killed by plastic or rubber bullets fired by the British Army or RUC during the recent conflict.

Deaths from plastic and rubber bullets were not inevitable. Their use was a reflection of the increasing use of excessive force by the security forces in the north of Ireland, in which weapons were not used as a last resort but as a first resort, and of its acceptance by the security forces and judiciary alike.

The circumstances in which many baton round victims have met their deaths, moreover, fail to corroborate the authorities contention that these weapons were used to protect life.

Francis Rowntree (above) was the first rubber bullet fatality – he was only 11 years old when he was shot on the 16th April 1972 by a soldier from the Royal Anglican Regiment as he played with friends at the Divis Flats Complex in Belfast. He died four days later from his injuries.

He was shot at point blank range by a soldier who claimed the bullet richochet off a lamppost. A recent forensic re-examination of the injuries to Francis Rowntree by former State pathologist, Professor Jack Crane, undermines this account and suggests that Francis Rowntree was shot directly in the head.

A recent HET report has confirmed that Francis Rowntree was an ‘innocent bystander who posed no threat whatsoever to the soldiers’ – the report also stated that their findings would allow consideration for an apology at government level.

The Attorney General directed a fresh inquest into the death of Francis Rowntree after an application from our office.
5Operation Stafford
We represent 13 families in relation to the ongoing PSNI investigation into the deaths of their loved ones who were murdered the Mount Vernon Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Police Ombudsman investigation into the role of the RUC/Special Branch handlers in these deaths.

Former Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, in her 2007 report, identified systemic collusion between the RUC and the Mount Vernon UVF during the course of her investigation, including;

• The failure to arrest informants who had confessed to involvement in crimes, or to treat these informants as suspects of crimes;
• By creating interview notes which were deliberately misleading; by failing to record and maintain original interview notes;
• By arresting informants and conducting sham interviews and releasing them on the instruction of their handlers;
• By giving instructions to junior officers that records should not be completed;
• By concealment of intelligence, withholding information on suspects;
• By destroying or losing forensic exhibits.

We represent our clients in relation to the ongoing PSNI investigation of these cases and related civil proceedings against the Chief Constable arising from the systemic collusion between the RUC Special Branch and the Mount Vernon UVF.

Mr Ó Muirigh was instrumental in establishing the oversight panel comprised of former Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan and human rights barrister, Richard Harvey to oversee the PSNI investigation.

Deaths in custody

The Inquest team at Ó Muirigh Solicitors are experienced in dealing with the Prison Service / Prisoner Ombudsman and have detailed knowledge of the procedure following a death in custody.

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one whilst they were in prison, a member of our Inquest team will offer you advice and assistance and, if you wish, will represent you throughout the inquest proceedings and related civil proceedings.

We support the work of INQUEST and are members of the Inquest Lawyers Group.

We represented the families of John Kenneway and James McDonnell at recent inquests into their deaths in custody at HMP Maghaberry. We also represent the family of Niall Leonard who died at HMP Maghaberry in July 2012 .A hearing into his death has yet to be fixed.

Inquest of James McDonnell

James McDonnell (36) from Antrim died in Maghaberry Prison in March 1996 shortly after an incident with officers in which he was grabbed by the neck.

During an inquest hearing in May 2013 the jury found that the neck injury suffered by Mr McDonnell during the altercation led to stress that contributed to his fatal heart attack later that day.

After deliberating for four hours the jury found that Mr McDonnell had been physically restrained by prison officers as a result of violent behaviour. However the jury concluded that the control and restraint procedures had not been carried out correctly. The jury questioned the level of training given to prison officers in physically restraining inmates and outlined a number of factors that contributed to Mr McDonnell suffering a fatal heart attack – the initial restraint, neck compression, the control and restraint as carried out in this instance, underlying heart conditions and emotional stress.

The jury found that prison officers had used excessive force and were not trained in the application of applying discretion when using control and restraint procedures. The jury concluded that the prison service failed in its duty of care to Mr McDonnell.

Judicial Review

Judicial review is the process by which the courts can challenge the lawfulness of decisions made by public bodies such as the PSNI, PPS, Police Ombudsman, the Secretary of State, Local Councils, Health Trusts and the Prison Service.

Ó Muirigh Solicitors has a long-standing and successful record of taking on such cases. We passionately believe public bodies should be held to account when things go wrong. Our specialist expertise means that often we can persuade public bodies to reconsider before cases even reach court. However, we have fought and won judicial reviews which have been vigorously defended by the authorities.

Our experience of judicial review ranges from high profile cases to very many less well known, but no less complex or important cases.
High Profile Cases
1Jordan and five other Applications [2014] NI QB71
We represented a number of applicants who brought Judicial Review proceedings in relation to delay in holding an inquest into the death of their loved ones. The applications were brought by:

• Kathleen Ryan, the mother of Michael Ryan who was shot and killed by members of the SAS in Coagh on 3 June 1991;
• Christina McCusker, the mother of Fergal McCusker who was shot and killed in Maghera on 18 January 1998. The McCusker family have concerns about collusion between Loyalist paramilitaries and agents of the State in his death;
• Colette McConville, the mother of Neil McConville who was shot and killed by a PSNI officer near Ballinderry on 29 April 2003;
• Anne McMenamin, the mother of James Daniel McMenamin who died after being knocked down by a PSNI Land Rover in Belfast on 4 June 2005; and
• Jordan Brown, the son of Stephen Craig Colwell who was shot and killed by a PSNI officer on 16 April 2006 outside Ballynahinch Police Station.

On the day the judicial review applications were due to be heard, the PSNI, the Coroners Service, the Office of the Police Ombudsman (“the respondents”) and the Department of Justice (who was joined to the proceedings as a “notice party” on the basis that it is responsible for funding the Police Ombudsman and the Coroners Service and for partly funding the PSNI) conceded that there had been a delay in commencing the inquests which breached the applicants’ human rights. The Court made a declaration to this effect.

Mr Justice Stephens, sitting in the High Court in Belfast, awarded £7,500 damages to our clientS who claimed that the delay in commencing inquests was incompatible with Article 2 of the ECHR and in breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
2DB Application
We represent a resident of the nationalist Short Strand area took a judicial review against the Chief Constable of the PSNI in relation to their policing strategy of loyalist protests against Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the union jack on designated days only. The applicant argued that the PSNI allowed un-notified processions to take place and failed to arrest those involved in organising and taking part in breach of their privacy and family life entitlements.

Mr Justice Treacy upheld the applicant’s legal challenge to the policing operation at Belfast High Court on the 28th April 2014.

In his judgment Mr Justice Treacy stated "It is evident that ACC Kerr was labouring under a material misapprehension as to the proper scope of police powers and the legal context in which they were operating."

The judge went on to say that the "impugned policing operation during the period complained of was characterised by an unjustified enforcement inertia".

The judgment of Justice Treacey has since been appealed and we await an hearing date for the Supreme Court on this issue.

Police Misconduct / Actions Against the State

We specialise in representing those who have suffered ill-treatment or abuse of power at the hands of the police and other state agencies. We are recognised as a leading firm in this field.

Our aim is not just to provide high quality advice upon the available legal remedies, but to achieve some measure of accountability and sense of redress for our clients in actions against the police for assault, false imprisonment, wrongful arrest, interference with your property, malicious prosecution or other abuses by police. We can provide legal advice and assistance in relation to complaints to the Police Ombudsman and the merits of civil proceedings against the police.

Our expertise, developed predominantly through our work on police cases, is now deployed against the full range of state agencies including the Prison Service, Health Trust and other state bodies.
High Profile Cases
1Neil McConville
We represent the family of Neil McConville, a 21-year-old who was shot dead by the PSNI in the Lisburn area in April 2003.

A Police Ombudsman report was critical of aspects of the operation that resulted in Neil McConville's death and that related intelligence went missing afterwards. The Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan expressed "grave concerns" that some intelligence information about the police operation had been deleted from a computer during her investigation. Mrs O'Loan was also critical of the police operation on the night of the shooting and said two officers based in the police control room at the time should be moved to other duties.

She also criticised a number of senior officers who refused to co-operate with her inquiries and then retired while possible misconduct issues were being considered.

An inquest into the death of Neil McConville has yet to be heard
2Steven Colwell
We represent the family of Steven Colwell in relation to the forthcoming inquest into his death and related civil proceedings. Mr Colwell, a 23 year old, was the driver of a stolen BMW vehicle when he was shot at a vehicle checkpoint outside Ballynahinch Police Station on the 16 April 2006.

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson in his report concluded that while Steven Colwell's actions were reckless, the police officer's actions played "the greater part" in the tragedy.

He said that he had grave concerns that the constable was acting in such a role that day. These included the officer drawing his gun at an early stage, placing himself in front of the vehicle and remaining there.

Mr Hutchinson found that the officer's actions in discharging two shots created significant risk of further casualties. The Police Officer who fired the fatal shot said that he could not get out of the car's way in time and had believed his only option was to open fire if he were to save his life and the lives of members of the public. He said that after he fired the first shot the car continued straight at him so, without moving position, he fired a second shot.

But forensic evidence contradicted the police officer's account of what happened. It showed that the front wheels of the car were turned towards the opposite side of the road and the car turned left, away from the police officer. It also showed the officer moved to his left before discharging the second shot through the driver's side window, as the car passed close to him.

Miscarriage of justice

We specialise in preparing applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and/or application to the Court of Appeal on behalf of clients who feel that they have been subject to a miscarriage of justice. We represent a number of former prisoners who were wrongly convicted by the Diplock Court during the recent conflict.

We work closely with Coiste na Iarchimí, an organisation established to promote the rights of former political prisoners.

Criminal Law

We offer a 24hr call out service to attend arrests.

We also provide legal advice and assistance on all matters arising from criminal proceedings including representing our clients during the investigation, prosecution and sentencing processes at the Magistrates Court, Crown Court and related Appeals.

We also make legal visits to the prisons and young offenders centres to consult with our clients.

Medical Negligence and related inquests

Our highly experienced team provides specialist medical negligence advice to clients and their families who have had life-changing injuries that require guidance and support in obtaining redress and compensation to rebuild their lives.

We offer advice for all types of medical/clinical negligence claims, including cases against hospitals, GPs, nurses, dentists and other clinical practitioners. We deal with each case sympathetically and professionally.
2Medical Inquests
We successfully applied to the Attorney General to have a fresh inquest into the role of the MR Vaccine in the death of 15 year old Christopher Coulter in 1994. The inquest into his death is likely to be heard later this year.

We also represent the mother of Axel Desmond, who died at Altnagelvin Hospital during childbirth in 2001. An inquest has been directed into the circumstances of his death.

Personal Injury

Our team of personal injury solicitors has an enviable track record of getting the results that you both want and deserve.It could be a car accident, an accident at work, or criminal injury. Whatever the issue we will help you make a personal injury claim and support you the whole way through the process.

We will ensure that your claim is dealt with by the person best suited to your circumstances, and who has the right level of expertise, and passion, to get you the result you deserve.

Our personal injury lawyers have experience handling all types of personal injury cases including trips and slips, road traffic accident claims, accidents at work and criminal injury and criminal damage claims.

Family & Matrimonial Law

Ó Muirigh Solicitors assist communities, families and children. We passionately believe that in family disputes, what comes first must be a sensitive, realistic and careful approach. This is why our caring and sympathetic family law solicitors always take the time to listen to you, understand your circumstances and help you build for the future.

We understand that when it comes to family disputes – whether it is a divorce, a family breakdown, a civil partnership or problems with children – you will want answers, assurances and support through what can be a very tough time.

Our family law solicitors maintain the utmost sensitivity and privacy when dealing with all issues. We will be by your side throughout any disputes and you will be able to count on us to stand up for you when you need us to.

Our specialist family law solicitor has the knowledge and experience to handle even the most complex family cases.

We can offer advice and assistance in the following areas of family law:

• Divorce
• Judicial Separation
• Ancillary Relief - Financial issues concerning the division of matrimonial assets
• Maintenance
• Residence and contact arrangements for children
• Injunctions/Domestic Violence
• Separation Agreements
• Cohabitation Rights/Disputes
• Child Abduction
• Domestic Violence
• Non-Molestation Order / Occupation Orders / Exclusion Orders
• Residence Orders / Contact Orders / Parental Responsibility Order

Will’s and Probate

We can advise and assist you in drafting Wills and testamentary dispositions to ensure your estate passes to your loved ones.

We offer advice and assistance in the following areas;

• Making a will and advise how to keep it valid.
• Managing probate and estate administration when someone dies.
• Contesting an invalid will.
• Setting up a lasting power of attorney in case you become unable to manage your affairs.
• Applying to the Court of Protection on behalf of a person who has lost capacity.