Nationalists have expressed dismay at the draft legislation relating to justice issues in the Six Counties which is currently passing through the London parliament, while the DUP has insisted on further “delivery” from Sinn Féin before powers can be transferred to the Belfast Assembly.
The House of Commons has been debating the Justice and Security Bill, with amendments setting out a model for a devolved justice department in Belfast.
The legislation retains non-jury ‘Diplock’ trials and strengthens powers of stop, search, raid and arrest for both the British Army and PSNI police.
The draft bill would also place limits and restrictions on the activities of the North’s Human Rights Commission.
Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on policing and justice, Gerry Kelly, said there must be “no re-introduction of Diplock courts through the back door”. Earlier statements by the British government had been interpreted by Sinn Féin at the time to mean that controversial non-jury courts would be abolished.
Mr Kelly also inssited that the British government must abide by its commitment to transfer justice powers by 2008, with or without the agreement of the DUP.
“The British Government during negotiations committed to the repeal of emergency powers as part of the programme of demilitarisation. This is due in July of this year and includes the abolition of the Diplock courts,” said Mr Kelly.
“Provisions currently under consideration at Westminster have the potential to allow the continued use of some emergency powers in particular circumstances.
“We have a particular concern at the provisions that give the Public Prosecution Service discretion to allow a case before the courts to be a non-jury trial. There must be no re-introduction of Diplock courts through the back door.
“Similarly, the provisions that allow extended powers of arrest to the PSNI and the British Army and those, which seek to limit the application of new powers for the Human Rights Commission, should be withdrawn.
“New powers for the Human Rights Commission were agreed as part of the recent negotiations as a necessary step in driving forward the Human Rights agenda. It is essential that the Commission has all the necessary powers to be fully effective.”
The DUP’s deputy leader Peter Robinson has outlined the conditions which should be met before his party accepts the devolution of justice and policing powers from London to Belfast.
Peter Robinson insisted the DUP would be “condition led, not calendar led” and not “forced by deadlines”.
He described the scheduled transfer date of May 2008 as at the “very earliest part of the tolerance of most people”.
Speaking at Westminster, he said Sinn Féin had to “build confidence” before policing and justice powers could be “safely” handed over from London.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan has also called on the British government to go further on the devolution of justice powers.
“They [the amendments] allow the British government to fix the model for the devolution of justice if the parties do not agree.
“But that only strips away one of the many DUP vetoes,” he warned.
“If they refused to agree to the devolution of justice by May 2008, under our amendment the secretary of state could go ahead and devolve these powers anyway to the first minister and deputy first minister.
“It would then be up to them to allocate the work out to other ministers.”
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly also said it was clear the transfer of powers was critical.
“Sinn Féin want this to happen sooner rather than later,” he said.