Judge believes Arlene Foster should have chance to answer inquest funds blocking claims

A judge has asked that Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster be offered a chance to answer claims her decision to block the release of legacy inquest funds was politically motivated.

Mr Justice Paul Maguire was presiding over a judicial review at Belfast High Court challenging an ongoing failure to provide extra funding for legacy inquests.

Dozens of investigations into deaths from the Troubles are going through the courts.

However, campaigners and victims' families claim considerable delays are being caused by a lack of funding.

Last year, Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, proposed that a specialist unit be set up that could deal with the cases within five years. However, politicians have so far failed to agree to stump up the £10 million needed to fund the process.

The UK Government has claimed it would release the inquest funding if a formal request came from Stormont's leaders.

However, prior to the collapse of powersharing, then first minister Mrs Foster refused to sign off on such a funding request.

The judicial review has been taken by Brigid Hughes, whose husband Anthony was a bystander killed in an ambush on IRA members in Loughgall, Co Armagh in May 1987.

A lawyer for the widow told the court that there are 44 legacy cases outstanding in the legal system. He said: "The legacy system has effectively collapsed and no-one has taken responsibility for that.

"The problem is that for political reasons the then first minister (Arlene Foster) blocked discussion of these proposals for political reasons and the Secretary of State has, for political reasons, decided not to release that money."

Ms Hughes' barrister cited media interviews in which Ms Foster was quoted as objecting to the release of legacy funding, due to concerns that they would cause an unfair focus on deaths connected with security personnel.

The case was taken against the Executive Office, which Mrs Foster shared with the late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness before powersharing collapsed, and the Secretary of State.

Judge Maguire told the court Mrs Foster should have the chance to answer the claims in a personal capacity.

"If you're presenting your case as a personal attack on her as former first minister, I don't think it would be fair to proceed without making her a party to proceedings and having legal representation," he said.

In response, Ms Hughes' legal team said they would request an "application to amend" their case in order to name Ms Foster in the case title and allow her to bring legal representation to the review to respond to the claims made against her.

The case has been listed for mention on October 18. The next resumption of hearing will be November 27.

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