Special non-jury ‘Diplock’ courts are to remain part of the British judicial system in the North of Ireland, it has been confirmed.
Although British Direct Ruler Peter Hain has said such courts will become the exception in future, they will still be deployed in those circumstances where a jury might find a suspect innocent.
Under new proposals, the Director of the Crown Prosecution Service will still be able to decide if a case should be tried without a jury. Any legal challenge will also go before a non-jury court.
University of Ulster academic Angela Hegarty has asked why British rule in Ireland still needed non-jury trials.
Ms Hegarty said the trials are not part of the legal system in Britain, despite growing concerns there about international terrorism.
“Is there a need to retain these exceptional powers in Northern Ireland if there are no such powers in England, Scotland or Wales?” she said.
Ms Hegarty said there are already provisions to deal with the possibility of jury intimidation under the government’s Criminal Justice Review.
She said that the right to a jury trial was a “cornerstone of the common law system”.
And she said proposals to prevent defence teams from having access to jurors’ personal information may also undermine the lawyers’ position.
Diplock trials were introduced as a ‘temporary’ measure in 1973 to cope with republican armed struggle without using internment.
The system has remained in place 33 years on, although the number of non-jury trials has fallen to around 60 each year compared with more than 300 in 1986.
The reforms have been criticised by the SDLP, which claims the government was only pretending to abolish Diplock courts.
North Belfast assembly member Alban Maginness said the changes did not go “nearly far enough”.
“Diplock courts are not being abolished,” he said.
“What the British government is actually attempting is pretending to abolish Diplock courts while at the same time creating a mechanism to keep them.”
Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Gerry Kelly said his party had a commitment from the British goverment that they would abolish Diplock Courts.
“It is important that the British government move quickly to remove this repressive measure from the Criminal Justice System,” he said.
ORDE BACKS WIRETAPS
Meanwhile, PSNI police Chief Hugh Orde has demanded to be able to use phone tapping evidence in court.
Orde said the provision should be introduced as “a weapon of last resort”. Wiretaps on landlines and mobile phones are understood to be extremely common in the North of Ireland, while details of every call and text message are available to police. However, wiretap evidence is not currently considered admissible under British law.
Sinn Féin West Tyrone Assemblyman Barry McElduff said civil libertarians around the world would attack the practice.
“In principle I would be opposed to this technology. In Ireland’s case we should not be subject to British Government listening devices,” he said.
“I believe they are omnipresent and endemic in Ireland. The British Government should come clean and reveal the extent of its eavesdropping apparatus.”