UN Special Rapporteurs Report to the Commission on Human Rights, including an update on the Finucane case
Param Cumaraswamy, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers | 01 March 2002
Below is the section referred to the UK Government from the UN Special Rapporteurs Report to the Commission on Human Rights. E/CN.4/2002/72 page 57 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Communications to the Government.
190. On 20 February 2001, the Special Rapporteur sent an urgent appeal concerning lawyer Padraigin Drinan, who had taken over some of the cases of lawyer Rosemary Nelson who was killed by a car bomb in 1999 (see E/CN.4/2001/65, paras. 222-226). Ms. Drinan, a person protected under the Key Persons Protection Scheme (KPPS), had become concerned about a car abandoned near her house. It was alleged that on several occasions she had requested the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to investigate the car, but was informed that it was a matter for the Belfast City Council. After she insisted, the RUC investigated the matter and discovered that the car had been bought recently by an unknown person. They informed her that the car would be removed within seven days by the Belfast City Council.
191. On 6 June 2001, the Special Rapporteur sent a second urgent appeal concerning Ms. Drinan. It was alleged that Ms. Drinan had been informed by the Assistant Chief Constable of the RUC that her personal details, including her home and work addresses and telephone numbers, had been found in the computer of a person believed to have links to a loyalist paramilitary organization. Ms. Drinan was simply informed to take precautions for her personal safety.
192. On 13 December 2001 the Special Rapporteur sent a communication expressing his concern over the murder of William Stobie, a key witness in the 1989 murder of lawyer Patrick Finucane. In his communication he said, inter alia: "It now appears that those responsible for the murder of William Stobie may have connections with the Patrick Finucane murder and the motive for the present murder may [have been] to prevent him from assisting any inquiry". In view of the public interest in this development, he issued a press release. Communications from the Government
193. On 17 April 2001 the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, responded to the Special Rapporteur's letter of 11 September 2000 on the case of Patrick Finucane (see E/CN.4/2001/65, para. 219). The Prime Minster reiterated that the Government viewed this case and the allegations surrounding it with the utmost seriousness and considered it essential that the truth be uncovered. The Government believed the current Stevens investigation had a good prospect of achieving this and must be allowed to take its course. The Prime Minister also stated that whilst not legally precluded from establishing an independent inquiry whilst the investigation continued, the Government believed that there would be considerable overlap and that there was a significant risk of one interfering with the other. This position would be kept under review and when the investigation was complete the Government will consider what further steps are necessary.
194. On 18 April 2001 the Special Rapporteur received a detailed and comprehensive response from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to his reports of 2000 (E/CN.4/2000/61) and 2001 (E/CN.4/2001/65). With respect to the murder of Patrick Finucane, the Secretary of State reaffirmed the statements expressed in the letter of the Prime Minister. The Government also stated that it had taken unprecedented steps to ensure that a thorough and transparent investigation is carried out into the murder of Rosemary Nelson. It was the professional judgement of the officers responsible for the investigation that the involvement of RUC officers was essential for its success, given the need for local knowledge and intelligence. The Government further stated that it firmly believed that the head of the investigation, Colin Port, was leading a credible and effective investigation into the murder and into the separate investigation of the collusion allegations. The officers investigating the allegations of collusion were totally independent of the RUC.
195. With respect to the report of the investigation by Commander Mulvihill into the RUC's handling of the complaints made by or on behalf of Rosemary Nelson before her death, the Government stated that the Special Rapporteur's request that the report be published had been forwarded to the Chief Constable of the RUC.
196. The Government also informed the Special Rapporteur that, in order to expand the range of safeguards for terrorism suspects, as of 19 February 2001 interviews with terrorist suspects in police stations in Northern Ireland would be subject to video recording with sound. Further, a revised code of practice had been issued and a new police code of practice covering detention, treatment, questioning and identification had been issued. This latter code provided for access to a solicitor.
197. On 25 April 2001, the Special Rapporteur received a response to his urgent appeal of 20 February 2001. The Government stated that officials in the Ministry of State for Northern Ireland had been contacted by Ms. Drinan on this matter. The Ministry contacted the RUC Sub-Divisional Commander who stated that the RUC had not identified anything sinister or threatening in the car's abandonment outside Ms. Drinan's home and had therefore left it for the Belfast city authorities to remove. On 8 May 2001 the Special Rapporteur was informed by the Government of the outcome of the RUC report of the incident concerning Ms. Drinan. The report confirmed that RUC officers had investigated and confirmed there was nothing sinister about the vehicle. The Chief Constable confirmed that, as was normal practice, the security factors, which might have posed a threat to local residents, in particular Ms. Drinan, were considered. No such threat was found to exist, so the abandoned vehicle was reported to the local authorities.
198. On 18 July 2001, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland replied to the second urgent appeal regarding Ms. Drinan. He was advised that a person had been arrested and charged by the RUC in this matter, but that the police were not aware of the specific purpose or use for which the paramilitary organization had compiled the list and that inquiries were continuing. There was no evidence that it represented a serious or significant additional threat to Ms. Drinan's life, however. Her name was one of a large number listed in the computer records seized. All those persons had been advised by the RUC to take suitable precautions for their personal security. The Special Rapporteur was informed that RUC officers had been in contact with Ms. Drinan and had offered the services of the Crime Prevention Office to visit her home and provide practical advice on improving her security, an offer she has accepted. Moreover, the Northern Ireland Office (which had admitted Ms. Drinan to the Key Persons Protection Scheme in February 2000) had asked the RUC to undertake a general review of her security to facilitate a decision on whether the level of physical protection available to her under the Scheme should be enhanced.
199. On 8 November 2001 the Minister of State for Northern Ireland informed the Special Rapporteur that Gough Barracks, the last of the three holding centres, was closed down on 30 September. She added that terrorist suspects would in future be held in new facilities in Lisburn police station. This facility will be under the scrutiny of the Independent Commission for detained terrorist suspects. Observations
200. The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government for its responses. He continues to follow closely the investigations into the murders of Rosemary Nelson and Patrick Finucane and the continuing harassment of some defence lawyers in Northern Ireland.
201. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the enactment of the right of solicitors to be present at the interrogations of suspects, including those suspected of terrorism, by police. However, he remains concerned at the continued practice of drawing negative inferences from silence by accused persons.
202. The Special Rapporteur is concerned about the lack of progress in the investigations into the murder of Patrick Finucane. At the time of writing this report, the trial against William Stobie, who had been charged with aiding and abetting the murder, had collapsed after the court returned a verdict of not guilty because of lack of evidence. In his 2000 report /CN.4/2000/61, para.317) the Special Rapporteur expressed doubts whether the DPP would indeed eventually proceed with the prosecution of William Stobie. Mr. Stobie has since been murdered removing what could have been a key witness to the circumstances leading to the murder of Patrick Finucane. The Special Rapporteur also regrets that no significant progress has been made in the Rosemary Nelson investigation either, though there have been some arrests and some charged for other murders. Following the August 2001 implementation proposals of the Good Friday Agreement, the Special Rapporteur understands that an international judge will be appointed to look into, inter alia, the Finucane and Nelson murders, in order to decide whether there should be a public inquiry. Though it may be considered a positive step, the Special Rapporteur fails to see any merit in this proposal. After so many years of multiple investigations, particularly in the Patrick Finucane murder, the resultant delays and the loss of key witnesses, calling in an international judge to look into these outstanding murder investigations would only result in further delays, expense and public anguish. The Special Rapporteur reiterates his earlier calls for a public judicial inquiry into the murders of Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. If it is expedient, the same commission could inquire into the murders of the others named in the list for inquiry by the international judge. The very strong suspicions of collusion by the RUC and/or security forces in those murders, particularly the Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson murders, must be thoroughly examined by an independent public judicial commission. In this regard, the decision taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to call for an independent inquiry into the Patrick Finucane murder also should be taken into consideration.
203. The Special Rapporteur notes some improvements in police practices in Northern Ireland, particularly the practice of allowing solicitors to remain present during interrogations of their clients and the introduction of video and audio recording of police interrogation for those arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000. He also welcomes the closure of all the notorious holding centres.
204. The Special Rapporteur notes that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has drafted a Force Order spelling out the professional basis for the relationship between police officers and defence lawyers. This is a step in the right direction, and he trusts that this document will be shared with the Law Society and the Bar Council; otherwise the effectiveness of this effort will be meaningless.
205. The Special Rapporteur also notes that although the safety of defence lawyers in Northern Ireland has generally improved, there is a small group of lawyers still at risk. The Special Rapporteur urges the competent authorities, particularly the Police Service, to be vigilant and extend to them the necessary security measures. In this regard the Special Rapporteur urges the Law Society and the Bar Council to continue its vigilance in the defence of these lawyers.