The 26-County state been ordered by the European Court of Human Rights to pay compensation to senior republican Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane for the extraordinary decade-long delay in bringing him to trial.
The decision is likely to have implications for the manner in which prosecutions are used against republicans in both the North of Ireland and the South.
Mr McFarlane was finally acquitted of IRA-related charges in June 2008 following his initial arrest and detention in January 1998. He was cleared when an “admission” allegedly made by him in custody in 1998, was ruled inadmissible by the Special Criminal Court. In earlier proceedings, it had emerged that the only other evidence against him - alleged fingerprint evidence - had been “lost”.
In 1999, he learned of the loss of the fingerprint evidence, and sought the prohibition of his trial. This application was heard by the High Court in July 2003, where he succeeded. The State appealed to the Supreme Court, and this case was heard in February 2006 where the State’s appeal was upheld. He then sought a prohibition of his trial on the grounds of delay, and this application was heard by the High Court in November 2006, where the court found against him. His appeal was heard in the Supreme Court in February 2007, with judgment delivered in March 2008, where the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s decision.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg rejected arguments by the 26-County state that the delays were McFarlane’s fault.
The Strasbourg court rejected this argument, finding that the State had an obligation to ensure a speedy trial.
The 60-page judgment stated: “While the conduct of the applicant had contributed somewhat to the delay, it did not explain the overall length of the proceedings against him. The court concluded that the overall length of the criminal proceedings against the applicant were excessive.”
The 26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin said the ruling raised issues for the Government which it would have to deal with. “We’ll reflect on the judgment and clearly act on it,” he told reporters in Brussels. “We’re always keen . . . to comply with our obligations under international covenants and I think we’ll certainly examine the judgment.”