Mandelson unconcerned for human rights
BY LAURA FRIEL
Sinn Féin Assembly member Pat McNamee has accused Peter Mandelson of high handedness ``when it comes to dealing with issues that may have serious human rights implications''. McNamee is a member of the ad hoc committee considering the draft Financial Investigation Order and was commenting on the failure of the British Secretary of State to consult the Law Society and the Human Rights Commission prior in drawing up the proposals.
The Human Rights Commission is concerned that the rights of the individual may be infringed and also about the code of practice and training for financial investigators.
The Law Society has expressed concerns that the principle of confidentiality and privilege between solicitors and their clients may be undermined.
Normal legislative procedure was not being followed, they said. A spokesperson said the Law Society saw ``little objective justification'' for the legislation and there were indications that the measures were prepared at the behest of the RUC and other law enforcement agencies.
The Order, tabled by Peter Mandelson, would give the RUC and Customs officers sweeping powers to investigate personal and business finances of anyone suspected of illegal activity. In direct breach of client-lawyer confidentiality, the legislation also allows the trawling of all 600 solicitors' firms in the Six Counties.
Under current legislation, a financial investigation can only be initiated by an officer of the rank of superintendent or above and significant evidence warranting investigation has to be presented. Furthermore, production orders compelling solicitors to release details of their clients can be challenged in the High Court.
Under the new order, an investigation could be initiated by an RUC constable without any presentation of justification evidence. Demands to hand over confidential information on a client, for example by a solicitor or bank, could not be challenged and it would be illegal either to withhold information or alert the client that they are under scrutiny.
Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre said a trawl through solicitors' firms would create a climate of suspicion and endanger solicitors. He pointed out that in the past allegations suggesting connections between solicitors and paramilitaries resulted in ``deadly consequences''.
Commenting on the draft order, Sinn Féin's Pat McNamee said it was imperative that the proposed legislation be shelved ``until the appropriate legal and human rights groups had been properly consulted and the concerns they raise are adequately addressed''.
Meanwhile, RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan has denied unionist claims that he gave them assurances that the Special Branch would not be disbanded in line with the Patten proposals. The claim emerged in an internal report drawn up by the Unionist Party review group, distributed to party officers last week.
Referring to Flanagan, the report says: ``The chief constable gave the review group an assurance that although Special Branch and CID would come under the authority of the same assistant chief constable, they would not be amalgamated and Special Branch would remain as it is as present.''
Refuting the unionist claim, Flanagan described the report as a ``gross distortion'' of what he said. ``What I said to them was there will always be a Special Branch, there has to be by law to look after matters of national security,'' he said.
The RUC Special Branch has been at the heart of Britain's dirty war in Ireland, which includes the running of agents, spying, collusion, torture of detainees and summary execution. The recommendations by the Patten Commission into policing tacitly acknowledged the truth behind many of the allegations against the Special Branch.