Friday, 16 July 2021

Northern Ireland ~ important developments

Addendum 19 October 2021 - the death of Dennis Hutchings was reported - BBC News.  The death was due to Covid. Mr Hutchings was standing trial (without jury) for attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm. The alleged victim was John Pat Cunningham who was shot in 1974.

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This post notes two significant developments relating to criminal justice and legal process in Northern Ireland. 

Extension of non-jury trial:

An Order extending the possibility of non-jury trial in Northern Ireland to 31 July 2023 was approved. Non-jury trial is available in situations provided for in The Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 and the power to extend the 'effective period' is in section 9.

The Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of Duration of Non-jury Trial Provisions) Order 2021 (legislation.gov.uk)

Legacy of Northern Ireland's past:

A statement was made in the House of Commons on 14 July by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Brandon Lewis MP).

Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past - Wednesday 14 July 2021 - Hansard - UK Parliament

The statement is accompanied by a command paper (CP498) - Addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland's past - July 2021.

The command paper sets out a series of proposed measures for addressing the past. These are:

1] - a new independent body to enable individuals and family members to seek and received information about Troubles-related deaths and injuries

2] - establish an oral history initiative - to be delivered via new physical and online resources and through empowerment of museums in Northern Ireland. This would be supported by rigorous acdemic research projects.

3] - a statute of limitations to apply equally to all Troubles-related incidents, bringing an immediate end to criminal investigations and prosecutions

The idea of a statute of limitations, whatever the arguments in its favour, is highly controversial and appears not to be acceptable to the political parties within Northern Ireland.

Under the proposal, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland would be statutorily bared from investigating Troubles-related incidents. This would end criminal investigations into Troubles-related offences. 

Very few further details of the limitation proposal are revealed but it appears that it would be a blanket ban applying no matter how atrocious the consequences of the particular criminality and no matter who the possible perpetrators were. If the Police decided that an offence was "Troubles-related" then they would not be able to investigate the matter.

In addition to ending criminal investigations, the UK government is considering ending judicial activity in relation to Troubles-related conduct across the spectrum of criminal cases, current and future civil cases and also inquests. There was no explanation as to how that will square with the UK's obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights - The Guardian 15 July - UK plan for Troubles amnesty breaches international obligations - Irish Minister.

It will not have gone unnoticed that the Conservative Party's 2019 manifesto stated -


The government is engaging with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland parties on these legacy issues.

Legislation will be required and it is the Secretary of State's hope that a bill will be presented to Parliament by the end of the autumn.

Immediate reaction to the proposals appears to be almost entirely negative as evidenced by articles such as - 

Belfast Telegraph 15 July, The Independent 14 July, Irish News 14 July 

Links:

Operation Kenova

Victims & Survivors Support | Wave Trauma Centre | Northern Ireland

The Stormont House Agreement 2014 included provisions to investigate killings and other crimes associated with the Troubles.

See Victims - Dealing with the Past for information about the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval, Historical Investigations Unit, the Oral History Archive etc.

Joshua Rozenberg - What's a Statute of Limitations?

BBC News 16 July - NI Troubles: 'Robust conversation'; as parties meet Lewis over legacy

The Guardian 14 July - UK confirms plan for statute of limitations on Troubles prosecutions

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