The Council of Europe has urged the UK government to scrap immunity provisions in its new laws aimed at tackling the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Council's Committee of Ministers said the immunity system “risks breaching the obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention to prosecute and punish serious serious violations of human rights”.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act received royal assent on Monday despite widespread opposition from political parties, victims' organizations in Northern Ireland and the Irish government.
The most controversial aspects of the new law include a limited form of immunity from prosecution for trouble-related offenses for those who cooperate with the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).
It will also stop future civil cases and inquests.
ICRIR, which will take responsibility for looking into hundreds of unsolved deaths, will be led by former Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan with former senior police officer Peter Sheridan as its commissioner of investigations.
The Council of Europe is an international body that oversees and monitors compliance with the ECHR. The UK is one of its 46 members and a signatory to the convention.
In a recently published decision, the council said issues related to independence, disclosure and the initiation of audits by ICRIR “remain uncertain”.
It also urged the authorities to consider taking “additional practical measures” to ensure that as many inquiries as possible could be completed before the May 1, 2024 deadline.
The council also reiterated its “serious concern that the proposed conditional immunity regime risks breaching the obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention to prosecute and punish serious and serious violations of human rights”.
He “strongly urged” the UK government to consider scrapping the immunity provisions.
The council is to write to the UK government outlining its concerns.
This week, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris described the granting of royal assent to the act as a “significant milestone”.
He said: “The legislation contains well-balanced political and moral options.
“It gives us all a real opportunity to bring greater information, accountability and recognition to victims and families, moving away from established mechanisms that have left too many empty-handed.”
However, some victims' families have already launched legal challenges to the new laws. At a High Court hearing on Wednesday, it was reported that 16 applications for judicial review had been made.
Meanwhile, some victims' organizations have said they plan to protest at a conference focused on the inheritance law next week.
Sir Declan is the keynote speaker at the Law Society's event for the legal profession.