Thursday, 14 October 2010

On-going matters in Northern Ireland: a legacy of the Diplock Courts

In June 2010, the long awaited and very expensive Saville Report was published – see Law and Lawyers 15th June.   Whilst giving evidence to the House of Commons Northern Ireland affairs Committee, the Inquiry Chairman (Lord Saville of Newdigate) has defended the money paid to Sir Christopher Clarke QC (Counsel to the Inquiry).  Clarke received some £4.5m.

Meanwhile, legal issues continue to arise in relation to convictions in the “Diplock Court” judge-only system of trial which prevailed from 1973 to 2007.  A considerable number of cases have been referred to the Northern Ireland Criminal Cases Review Commission alleging that confessions were obtained by oppressive means and that those confessions were accepted by the Diplock “ courts – The Guardian 11th October 2010 sets out further information.    A number of convictions have already been quashed and compensation paid. 

This form of non-jury trial was suggested by the late judge Lord Diplock (1907-1985) to address problems of jury intimidation in certain cases in which “scheduled offences” were to be tried.  Diplock’s report can be seen here.  Under the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 the Diplock court system was replaced by a revised system in which the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland may issue a certificate to require a judge only trial.  It was considered (after public consultation) that it remained necessary to keep some form of judge only trial for a certain type of case.  This system of certificates was given a limited life of 2 years from 1st August 2007 but, in 2009, this was extended for a further 2 years to 1st August 2011.  Paul Coggins (NI Justice Minister) said in March 2010 that retention of non jury trial continued to be necessary – see BBC.

Much has been written about the Diplock Court system.  The courts relied heavily on confessions.  This stimulated much concern and probably encouraged unacceptable interrogation techniques with the attendant risk of miscarriages of justice.

Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, non-jury trial is possible in England and Wales if jury intimidation is alleged – Law and Lawyers 24th July.   The affairs of Northern Ireland also had an effect on the rights of defendants in England and Wales in the “right to silence” provisions introduced by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.   Almost identical provisions had been previously enacted for Northern Ireland and were basically “copied over” in to the 1994 Act.

An interesting and detailed study - "War on Terror: the lessons from Northern Ireland"  - may be read here.  It is quite lengthy but well worth a read by the student wishing to form a more in depth knowledge.

Addendum 16th October 2010:   Given that this post ought to remind us of the value in society of the jury, it was interesting to read an article by Jon Robins (Guardian 13th October) - "Ricin Trial ullustrates the importance of juries."

No comments:

Post a comment