The Supreme Court is to hear an appeal aimed at compelling the State to establish an inquiry into the "inexcusable" handling of the Garda investigation into the murder of a Co Louth man, Seamus Ludlow.
The appeal, for hearing before a seven judge court on Thursday, will centre on the nature of the State’s obligations under European law to inquire into the circumstances of a death.
It will specifically address whether Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights obliges the State to carry out an effective investigation or inquiry into the circumstances of a death, or whether any such obligation is confined to identification and punishment of the perpetrators of the crime.
The outcome could have wider implications outside the Ludlow case as the court will also consider whether any such obligation can exist in relation to a death that occurred before the ECHR applied in Ireland but where some allegedly significant or weighty facts only came to light later.
The appeal is by Thomas Fox, a nephew of Mr Ludlow, following the rejection of his proceedings, brought on behalf of the family, to have the State establish commissions of inquiry.
A report by retired High Court judge Henry Barron previously stated the 1976 murder of 47-year-old Mr Ludlow, who had no paramilitary connections, was “a random, sectarian killing of a blameless Catholic civilian by loyalist extremists”.
Mr Ludlow was shot after leaving a bar in Dundalk and his body was found on May 2nd 1976 in a lane near his home. No one was ever charged in connection with the murder and his family say gardaí failed to pursue an important line of inquiry – that he was an innocent victim of either loyalist or British forces who mistook him for a senior member of the IRA.
Despite the RUC having identified suspects north of the border, the Garda investigation was suspended after three weeks without explanation and on foot of what a Garda told the family were "orders from Dublin", they claim.
An Oireachtas Committee said in 2006 it could not resolve why gardai did not follow up the RUC information but believed it was because of a direction by a former senior garda.
The family sought commissions of inquiry to examine failures in the Garda investigation and to look into what documents might have been created by the State authorities in respect of the murder.
Commissions of inquiry
The State maintained the murder investigation remains open and commissions of inquiry could not progress that. It said the DPPs on both sides of the border had recommended no prosecutions concerning four persons named in the Barron report as suspected perpetrators of the murder.
In 2015, then Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald apologised to the family over the "inexcusable" handling of the Garda investigation into the "callous, sectarian" murder but said there was no "new or substantial" information warranting commissions of inquiry.
After the High Court and Court of Appeal rejected the family’s case, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a further appeal.
There is a general public interest in clarifying the extent of the procedural obligations on the State under Article 2 of the ECHR and an appeal is also in the interests of justice as it “may bring finality” to the family, the court said.