The British government timed a decision to announce the retention of non-jury Diplock courts for a further two years to coincide with one of the busiest news days of the year.
As broadcasters and newspapers covered the results of the European elections on Monday as well as the landmark civil action taken by the families of the Omagh bombing victims, it was revealed that special anti-republican non-jury trials would continue despite human rights protests.
The information was posted on the media section of the website of Britain’s ‘Northern Ireland Office’ and not sent to newsrooms as is normal practice.
Sinn Féin accused the British government of trying to “slide this announcement out”.
An attempt by British spin doctors to feign the end of the special trial system took place in 2007, with non-jury trials allowed to go ahead in “exceptional cases”, including those involving republicans.
The legislation was due to end next month but an order was laid before parliament on Monday to renew it for a further two years, despite previous claims that the repressive measure was to be scrapped by July 31 this year.
A British government spokesman denied claims it had been trying to ‘bury bad news’ and said the reason the information was not passws to newsrooms was “down to human error”.
eirigi general secretary Breandan Mac Cionnaith has said that the retention of Diplock courts was further proof that the Britain remains wedded to repressive policies in Ireland.
Mac Cionnaith said: “We have heard countless claims over the last couple of years that Diplock courts were either on their way out or were, in fact, already a thing of the past.
“As eirigi pointed out at the time, these claims were wishful thinking and were made in complete contradiction of the British government’s Justice and Security Act 2007, which laid the foundations for the indefinite retention of Diplock courts in the Six Counties.
“The Diplock courts never went away; they remained in operation despite the British government’s claims of a return to normality. Paul Goggins has now confirmed his government’s intention of continuing to lock Irish citizens up without any semblance of a fair trial.”
Mr Mac Cionnaith continued: “The so-called justice system in the Six Counties is a sectarian, anti-republican, anti-working class institution. Its reason for existing remains the smooth operation and protection of the British occupation.
“The British government has no interest in reforming this system, bar cosmetic changes.
“Republicans, nationalists and all those with an interest in human rights should now recognise that the British government remains wedded to repression in the Six Counties. For evidence, we have to look no further than its criminal system of legalised injustice.”
Sinn Féin assembly member Martina Anderson said: “The fact that the NIO tried to slide this announcement out on the day the EU election results were being declared is fairly typical of their approach to these matters.
“Instead of being up front and having the debate on the future direction of the justice system they instead hide behind press releases.
“This was exactly the approach to government we became used to under Direct Rule and it has long past the time when the powers over policing and justice matters, including decisions like this, are removed from these unaccountable and unelected mandarins and placed into the hands of local politicians.”
“The Sinn Féin position on Diplock Courts is crystal clear. These repressive courts are unacceptable, are part of a failed agenda and their use must be ended. Diplock courts have no place in an acceptable and accountable justice system.”