In anticipation of the publication of the report of the Patrick Finucane Review I have today asked a team of officials to commence the checking of the Review’s report in relation to human rights and national security matters, as outlined below. I intend to adopt the same approach as was used for the checking of the reports of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Billy Wright Inquiry and the Rosemary Nelson Inquiry.
I am responsible for publication of the Review’s report, once it is delivered to me. I am advised that I have a duty, as a public authority under the Human Rights Act, to act in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. To fulfil this duty, I need to take steps to satisfy myself that publication of the report will not breach Article 2 of the Convention by putting the lives or safety of individuals at risk. I am advised that these obligations must be met by me, in my capacity as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I am not entitled to rely on the Review to satisfy my Article 2 obligations. I also have a duty to satisfy myself that publication will not put national security at risk, for example by disclosing details of sources of confidential information.
During the course of the Review, the government submitted to the Review Team some material that was relevant to its work but which was too sensitive to be disclosed publicly, usually because it contained information which had been provided to the security forces by individuals. If those individuals or others could be identified from information contained in the report it would endanger their lives. I understand that the Review does not intend to refer to any material which would constitute a breach of Article 2, or compromise national security, but I have a duty to satisfy myself before publication that none of this material has inadvertently been revealed in the report. The Review also agreed that the identities of a small number of individuals who were engaged on highly sensitive duties should not be disclosed and I need to be assured that these individuals and others whose lives could be endangered have not been identified.
I have established a small team of officials and legal advisers to assist me in carrying out this necessary exercise. The team will be led by the Northern Ireland Office’s principal legal adviser, but will also include members drawn from the Ministry of Defence, Security Service, and Police Service of Northern Ireland who are familiar with the sensitive material provided to the Review. The team will be granted access to the report under strict terms of confidentiality and for the sole purpose of carrying out the necessary checks, and will report directly to me alone. Sir Desmond de Silva has agreed that this team can carry out the necessary checks on the Review’s premises while the report remains in his custody, before it is submitted to me. I have confirmed to Sir Desmond de Silva that I am content with this proposal. I understand that the report will be made available for checking today.
I believe that these checks are necessary in order to meet the legal obligations on me. Following the approach used for the checking of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Billy Wright Inquiry and Rosemary Nelson Inquiry reports, Sir Desmond de Silva has given permission for members of the Review’s legal team to be present during the checking process. At all times, members of the Review’s legal team will be acting as representatives of the Review and not as advisers to me or the checking team.
I want to publish the report in its entirety. Should any concerns about the safety of any individual arise, my first course of action would be to consider whether these can be addressed through alternative means. Were I to reach the conclusion, on advice, that a redaction to the text might be necessary, I would consult Sir Desmond de Silva. In the unlikely event that any redaction was deemed necessary, my intention would be to make this clear on the face of the report.
Once the checking process has been completed I will make another statement to this House regarding its outcome and announcing the date of publication. The report must be published first for this House, and I intend to publish the report as soon as possible once the checking process has been completed. However, I acknowledge the importance of this Review’s findings in the lives of a number of individuals. As with the publication of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Billy Wright and Rosemary Nelson Inquiry reports, I intend to grant advance sight to those who the Review has recommended as being interested parties.