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Conference to examine new legacy laws postponed amid planned protests

A conference examining new laws to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles has been postponed following plans for a public protest at the event.

Former Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan, who is the head of a new body tasked with examining hundreds of unresolved Troubles deaths, had been due to be the main speaker at the Law Society event in Belfast this Friday.

However, the professional body for lawyers said that with a number of legal challenges to the new laws underway, it would postpone the event until the new arrangements have been tested in the courts.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act received royal assent last week despite widespread opposition from political parties, victims’ organisations in Northern Ireland and the Irish government.

A number of protests have taken place against the government’s legacy bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The most controversial aspects of the new act include a limited form of immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related offences to those who co-operate with the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

It will also halt future civil cases and inquests.

Last week, the High Court in Belfast heard that 16 judicial reviews against the new legislation have been launched by families of Troubles victims.

The ICRIR, which will assume responsibility for reviewing hundreds of unresolved Troubles deaths, will be headed by Declan Morgan with former senior police officer Peter Sheridan as its commissioner for investigations.

Mr Morgan had been due to deliver the keynote address at Friday’s conference. However, a number of victims’ organisations had said they would picket the event.

The legislation is, in the view of the Law Society, incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations

A statement on the Law Society website confirmed its annual conference had been postponed.

It said: “The Law Society has been a vocal opponent of this legislation, criticising – among other things – the prohibition on civil cases and closing of legacy inquests brought about by the Act.

“The legislation is, in the view of the Law Society, incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations.

“The Law Society convened this conference to provide members of the legal profession the opportunity to hear from human rights experts, from victims’ representatives and from those involved in the implementation of the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

“This was intended to help inform the legal profession’s approach to the new structures.

“Some victims’ representative groups have contacted the Law Society in recent days requesting the cancellation of the conference.

“The society has also been made aware of plans to hold a public protest at Friday’s event.

“In these circumstances, the society has taken the decision to postpone this event.”

It is right to postpone the event until such time as the legality of the new legacy arrangements has been tested in the courts

Law Society President, Brian Archer said the event had been organised to “inform and educate” its members.

He added: “However, we recognise the strength of feeling in opposition to this Act.

“With a significant number of legal challenges now before the courts, the implementation of the new legacy structures remains uncertain, and it is right to postpone the event until such time as the legality of the new legacy arrangements has been tested in the courts.”