Britain to pay for injustices
Britain to pay for injustices

A number of miscarriage of justice victims in the north of Ireland are to receive compensation following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of two men whose convictions were overturned.

The British government will be forced to pay out for at least five others following the decision reached in the case of Sinn Fein assembly member Raymond McCartney and journalist Eamonn MacDermott.

Mr McCartney and Mr MacDermott were jailed for life for an IRA attack in which a member of the then RUC police died in Derry in 1977.

They were later cleared on appeal when judges declared “unease” about the convictions against both men, who spent 17 and 15 years in prison respectively.

The pair always maintained they were victims of miscarriages of justice and were wrongly refused compensation after their convictions were overturned.

Their lawyers argued that a narrow definition that requires miscarriage of justice victims to prove demonstrable innocence in order to receive compensation had been conveniently adopted.

In a ruling with far-reaching consequences for prisoners in the North and throughout Britain, the Supreme Court in London said the new test should ensure defendants found not guilty are not precluded from obtaining compensation because they cannot “prove their innocence beyond reasonable doubt”.

Among those waiting for the verdict was west Belfast man Christy Walsh, whose conviction for having explosives was overturned following an unprecedented third appeal. The 47-year-old spent 14 years in jail for allegedly possessing a ‘coffee-jar bomb’ when stopped by soldiers in Belfast’s Lenadoon area in 1991. His conviction was ruled unsafe in March of last year.

Another prominent case involving a fight for compensation involves former senior republican Danny Morrison and seven others whose convictions for IRA activity were quashed in 2008.

Lawyer Kevin Winters, who represents Mr Walsh and four of the men convicted with Mr Morrison, said yesterday that the Supreme Court ruling would have huge implications for a number of people.

He confirmed that the Department of Justice was to be contacted about their outstanding claims.

Raymond said the ruling was “a total vindication of mine and Eamon McDermott’s contention of innocence all along.

“It is also a heavy indictment of what passed for a policing and justice system in the North of Ireland throughout the conflict.

“After many years of campaigning and successfully challenging the judgement of the Northern Courts we were finally vindicated and the original findings were quashed.

“But even though the Courts here found in our favour, the vindictiveness of the British establishment towards Irish Republicans could not handle the fact that its courts in effect found it guilty of a miscarriage of justice and the British Secretary of State refused an application for compensation.

“Now the highest Court in the British Judicial System has overruled the political decision of the British Secretary of State and totally vindicated our position.

“I have instructed my legal team to proceed appropriately and I thank them most sincerely for the exemplary manner in which they have conducted the case so far.”

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© 2011 Irish Republican News