Victims of the Northern Ireland conflict have submitted a legal challenge to controversial UK legislation which gives immunity to people who carried out terror attacks.

Loved ones of men and women who were murdered are among those behind the action which is being supported by the human rights organisation Amnesty International.

The Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, given royal assent yesterday, ends legal proceedings concerning crimes carried out during the Troubles and provides conditional immunity from prosecution for those who cooperate with investigations conducted by a newly established Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery.

It was strongly opposed by many victims and their families who said it would prevent them receiving justice after years of waiting and add to the trauma they had suffered.

Today a group of men and women who lost family members or were themselves seriously injured have joined together and submitted papers with Belfast High Court seek an urgent hearing in on the new law.

Martina Dillon, John McEvoy and Brigid Hughes dispute the Act's denial of inquests and lack of adequate investigations while Lynda McManus challenges the ban on civil claims. The victims and represented by Phoenix Law, Belfast. 

In a statement to the press, Amnesty said the UK government was warned of the prospect of a legal challenge while the bill passed through parliament. 

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Deputy Director, said: "We made it clear that if this Bill became an Act – we would continue to stand with victims and fight against this unacceptable denial of rights.

“The UK government blatantly shunned victims’ rights and pushed through a law only it wanted. This heinous Act of wrong must not stand. It is now over to the courts to right this historic wrong. 

“The Troubles Act betrays victims in the cruellest way possible, adding to their years of trauma by denying them the truth and justice to which they are entitled. Despite thinly veiled attempts by the government to portray the law as an act of reconciliation, it plainly serves to put perpetrators above the law and beyond accountability.

“The burden of legal challenge must not be shouldered only by victims. The clock is ticking for the Irish government to commit and take an inter-state challenge to the European Court of Human Rights. We urge them to swiftly do so.” 

Martina Dillon, whose husband Seamus Dillon was shot and killed in 1997 and has an inquest pending, said: "Every day my heart aches and yearns for my husband and the trauma of his killing has been exacerbated by this law. 

"Truth and justice are not much to ask, we shouldn't have to fight for decades to get it. I will fight this oppressive legislation in my husband's memory and in solidarity with other victims having their rights denied. The clock is ticking for victims, we hope the courts will treat this with urgency.”

Darragh Mackin, partner in Phoenix Law, said: “From its inception, international human rights experts have warned the government that this Act violates rights and fail to put victims at the centre of legacy processes. Access to justice is a cornerstone of any democratic society. These victims, supported by Amnesty International, seek to swiftly end this grave attack on rights. 
“The motivations of the government are hiding in plain sight. The victims have one message for this government. We will see you in Court.”   

John McEvoy, was seriously injured and narrowly avoided death during a gun attack in 1992 said: “The past is still the present, I narrowly escaped death and live with the impact of that gun attack every day. 
"As victims we have been affected in different ways, but we all stand to lose out by this law which grossly denies us our rights, that’s why we’ve come together to challenge it. We are determined to get answers and accountability, we wont stop fighting until that happens.”

The Four Applicants are: 
Martina Dillon’s husband, Seamus, was shot and killed outside the Glengannon Hotel in Cookstown on 27th December 1997. The circumstances of the killing suggest the role of collusion. There remain suspected perpetrators who are alive and who have recently been interviewed. The Coroner has opened an inquest into the killing of Seamus Dillon and ordered that the inquest will be an article 2 inquest. The Coroner heard the first module of the inquest in April 2023 and the inquest is now paused pending a public interest immunity process. 

John McEvoy was seriously injured and narrowly avoided death during a gun attack on those present in the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo, County Down on 19th November 1992. Another man present, Peter McCormack, was killed. On 7 October 2022 Mr Justice Humphreys delivered judgment which said that “the new material represents plausible evidence of significant state collusion at the Thierafurth Inn shootings. He found that the state “has failed to carry out” an effective investigation compliant with Article Two or Three of the European Convention on Human Rights “within a reasonable time”. 

Brigid Hughes husband, Anthony, was killed by state agents in Loughgall on 8th May 1987. In 2001, the European Court of Human Rights found that the investigations until that date into Anthony Hughes’ death had been in breach of article 2. In light of that ruling, the Advocate General for Northern Ireland directed a fresh inquest. 

Lynda McManus 's father James McManus (now deceased) was severely injured in a gun attack on the Sean Graham Bookmakers, Ormeau Road, Belfast on 5th February 1992. 
Five people were killed in that attack, including a boy of 15, and other people were injured. Her father was one of those shot during the attack and suffered such severe injury he was given the last rites at the scene.

He also suffered severe psychological injury. In or around February 2022 the Police Ombudsman published a public statement in relation to the death (and other connected deaths) which identified collusive behaviour by the security forces in relation to this attack and a subsequent flawed investigation into the death. Lynda issued a civil claim seeking damages on 17th May 2022.