Britain rejects UN call for judicial inquiry

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THE Government yesterday rejected a UN report's call for a judicial inquiry into the 1989 murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, saying that such tribunals were reserved only for matters of urgent public importance.

It also reacted coolly to the call for an investigation into alleged police harassment of defence lawyers, though it conceded that this was a matter of considerable concern.

The responses followed publication in Geneva of the report, which was drawn up for the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Its author is Malaysian jurist Param Cumaraswamy, who is the Commission's special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

The killing of Mr Finucane, who met his death at the hands of loyalist gunmen, has for years been the subject of allegations of security force collusion. The UN report warned: "So long as this murder is unresolved, many in the community will continue to lack confidence in the ability of the government to dispense justice in a fair and equitable manner."

The Government responded that an RUC inquiry into the lawyer's death had been followed by another carried out by a senior English policeman, John Stevens. It said that the Northern Ireland DPP had concluded there was insufficient evidence to warrant any prosecution, adding: "Unless new evidence is brought to light there can be no justification for another inquiry, although the police file remains open."

Addressing the UN observation that in 1996 the lodging of 2,504 complaints against the RUC had resulted in only one officer being found guilty of abuse of authority, the Government said it was considering the introduction of a lower standard of proof.

Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, yesterday told a committee of MPs that the RUC had to change to end hostility over symbols, including its "Royal" title, writes Colin Brown.

She said that the name of the force would remain unchanged for the time being, but added: "We are trying to put issues on the agenda ... we want evolutionary change so that these follow on naturally."

Ms Mowlam also supported a register for the RUC to name the groups to which they belonged, such as the Masons and the Orange Lodges.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair last night held a working dinner with Bertie Ahern at Downing Street in an attempt to narrow the gap between the parties over the Northern Ireland peace process. A joint statement said the two leaders had "very useful and wide-ranging discussions" thought more work needed to be done.