Groups oppose proposed legislation
Press release | 30 November 2005
A number of groups which support victims and survivors have spoken out against the proposed NI (Offences) Bill. Relatives For Justice, the Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten* have called on the Secretary of State “to go back to the drawing board and drastically rethink these proposals which show no consideration whatsoever for the rights and needs of families who have lost loved ones. This proposal is a complete non-starter. ”
The groups listed a numbers of concerns with the legislation which is intended to make special provisions for all those accused of having committed serious crimes before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
- No allowance has been made for international involvement as was the case with prisoner releases, policing reform, decommissioning and the talks process;
- No proper provision is made for the involvement of relatives;
- Decisions on what if any information should be provided to families is discretionary;
- vThe Secretary of State (SoS) will have the power to direct that all information surrounding a certificate application be withheld from relatives;
- The SoS will have the power to direct that an individual who applies for a certificate should remain anonymous;
- The members of the Special Appeal Tribunal and the Special Prosecutor will all be appointed by the SoS and are thus open to political interference;
- The SoS will have sole power to appoint the certification commissioner who is thus open to political interference;
- An applicant must supply any information or document required by the commissioner but the SoS can direct that the PSNI withhold documents and information from the same commissioner;
- The SoS can also withhold information from the certification commissioner;
Speaking today RFJ spokesperson Mark Thompson said,
“Together these groups represent hundreds of families who have lost loved ones from as far back as 1969 and as recently as last year, from throughout the North, in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, in the Murder Triangle and in hundreds of other individuals incidents. We are all united in opposition to the present legislation. Let no-one be fooled; the principal beneficiary is the British state. They drew up the legislation and it is they who are pushing it through their parliament. Two principles must apply.
The rights and needs of families must be at the core of any proposal. Relatives have a right and need to know the truth. This legislation makes no allowance whatsoever for a truth recovery process linked to certification.
The only truth recovery process that will enjoy cross-community and cross border support is one that has international involvement from the outset. The NIO, security forces, prosecution service and judiciary have been part of the problem and cannot be allowed to determine the process alone. We need respected international figures to be involved in making appointments and deciding procedures. We also need respected international figures who themselves can be appointed.”
Speaking on behalf of Justice for the Forgotten Margaret Irwin said,
“The Northern Secretary withheld documents and refused to give evidence to an inquiry led by a former supreme court judge, Justice Barron, in this jurisdiction. In doing so the NIO showed unbelievable contempt for a senior judicial figure. How can we trust a process totally determined by the Northern Secretary and the NIO? It’s not rocket science to figure out that the NIO will use the ‘national security’ clause to close down anything that might embarrass them on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.”
In a similar vein Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre argued that “this legislation is a dream come true for the spooks at Vauxhall Bridge. (MI5 HQ) Had this legislation been in place in 1992 the Secretary of State could have withheld the name of Brian Nelson, directed that the RUC, FRU and MI5 withhold evidence from the prosecution and withheld all information regarding charges and eventual prosecution from the Finucane family. The NIO cannot be allowed to determine this process. It is part of the problem.
We have seen the use of Public Interest Immunity Certificates, anonymity rulings, evidence from behind screens and so called ‘national security’ in order to cover up the truth. If this legislation goes through it will have profound implications for the criminal justice and policing institutions for decades to come. A chance to deal with the past honestly and fairly will have been lost.”
* Justice for the Forgotten represents the families of those killed and injured in the 1972 and 1973 Dublin bombings and the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.