Appendix B: Rosemary Nelson's Congressional Speech
Statement of Rosemary Nelson before the International Operations and Human Rights Sub-committee of the House International Relations Committee hearing on Human Rights in Northern Ireland.
29th September 1998
I have been a solicitor in private practice in Northern Ireland for the past twelve years. My practice includes a mixture of several areas of law including crime, matrimonial and personal injury cases. My clients are drawn from both side s of the community. For the last ten years I have been representing suspects detained for questioning about politically motivated offences. All of these clients have been arrested under emergency laws and held in specially designed holding centres. There are three such centres across Northern Ireland. Since I began to represent such clients and especially since I became involved in a high profile murder case, I have begun to experience difficulties with the RUC.
These difficulties have involved RUC officers questioning my professional integrity, making allegations that I am a member of a paramilitary group and, at their most serious, making threats against my personal safety including death threats. All of these remarks have been made to my clients in my absence because lawyers in Northern Ireland are routinely excluded from interviews with clients detained in the holding centres.
This behaviour on the part of RUC officers has worsened during the last two years and particularly since I began to represent the residents of the Garvaghy Road, who have objected to an Orang4e Order march passing through their area from Drumcree Church. Last year I was present on the Garvaghy Road when the parade was forced through. I had been present on the road for a number of days because I had instructions from my clients to apply for an emergency judicial review of any decision allowing the parade to pass through the area. When the police began to move into the area in forces in the early hours of 5th July. I went to the police lines and identified myself as a lawyer representing the residents. I asked to speak to the officer in charge. At that point I was physically assaulted by a number of RUC officers and subjected to sectarian verbal abuse. I sustained bruising to my arm and shoulder. The officers responsible were not wearing any identification numbers and when I asked for their names I was told to "fuck off". I complained about the assault and abuse but to date have obtained no satisfactory response from the RUC.
Since then my clients have reported an increasing number of incidents when I have been abused by RUC officer, including several death threats against myself and members of my family. I have also received threatening telephone calls and letters. Although I have tried to ignore these threats inevitably I have had to take account of the possible consequences for my family and for my staff. No lawyer in Northern Ireland can forget what happened to Patrick Finucane nor dismiss it from their minds. The allegations of official collusion in his murder are particularly disturbing and can only be resolved by an independent inquiry into his murder, as has been recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur. I would be grateful if the Sub-committee could do all in its power to bring about such an inquiry, by communicating to the United Kingdom government its belief that an inquiry in this case would in fact be a boost to the peace process, as it has been in the Bloody Sunday case.
I have also complained about these threats, again without any satisfactory response. Although complaints against the RUC are supervised by the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, the complaints themselves are investigated by RUC officers. Recently, a senior police officer from England has been called in to investigate my complaints in view of the RUC's apparent inability to handle my complaints impartially. This English police officer is interviewing witnesses himself and has decided not to rely on any assistance from the RUC.
I believe that one of the reasons that RUC officers have been able to indulge in such systematic abuse against me is that the conditions under which they interview clients detained under emergency laws allow them to operate without sufficient scrutiny. My access to my clients can be deferred for periods of up to 48 hours. I am never allowed to be present while my clients are interviewed. Interviews are now subject to silent video recording but are not yet being audio-recorded, although that is due to be introduced. The UN Special Rapporteur has made a number of recommendations that would remedy this situation, which to date have not been implemented. I should be grateful if this Sub-committee would lend their support to what he proposes.
Another reason why RUC officers abuse me in this way is because they are unable to distinguish me as a professional lawyer from the alleged crimes and causes of my clients. This tendency to identify me with my clients has led to accusations by RUC officers that I have been involved in paramilitary activity, which I deeply and bitterly resent. The Special Rapporteur has recommended that RUC officers be sensitised to the important role played defence lawyers in the criminal justice system. To date this recommendation had not been implemented. I should be grateful if this Subcommittee would ask this the UK government what steps they intend to take to act on this recommendation.
I, like many others, was pleased to see the human rights provisions included in the recently signed Agreement. In particular I was pleased that the Agreement looked to the early removal of the emergency provisions legislation which has been in place in some shape or form since the inception of the state. The existence of this legislation has seriously undermined public confidence in the rule of law and led to numerous miscarriages of justice, some of which have involved my clients. I was therefore very disappointed when, in the wake of the horrific Omagh bombing, new and draconian legislation was introduced which further erodes suspects' due process rights. For example, the legislation provides for the opinion of a senior RUC officer that someone is a member of a proscribed organisation to be accepted as evidence by the courts. I and many of my colleagues fear that if these laws are used they will lead to further miscarriages of justice. Although this legislation has already been passed I hope that the Subcommittee will express its concern to the British government that it will not be used.
I believe that my role as a lawyer in defending the rights of my clients is vital. The test of a new society in Northern Ireland will be to the extent to which it can recognise and respect that role, and enable me to discharge it with without improper interference. I look forward to that day.
I thank Chairman Smith and this honourable Subcommittee for its continuing interest in these important matters for the future of my country.